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The Ceramics of Orvieto

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Orvieto’s ceramic tradition is over a thousand years old and is rooted in the Etruscan era, a period in which one of antiquity’s most refined productions spread through the settlements in the region, that of bucchero, a black and shiny ceramic that is incredibly fine and light-weight. But Orvieto’s Etruscan production reached its zenith in the so-called ‘multicoloured architectural terracottas’: decorative elements of public and private buildings that were even praised by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia.

The artistic tradition of Orvieto ceramics continued throughout the Middle Ages, when new decoration techniques were developed, such as lattice patterning, a true geometric lattice painted on the glazed background to give depth to the surfaces. In the early 20th century a historic discovery was made in Orvieto. Almost all the medieval houses had ‘butti’, that is, pantry spaces dug underground and forgotten over the years and over multiple renovations. In each of these places a large quantity of ancient medieval pottery, fragmented but in good condition, was found. This discovery made Orvieto one of the most important fields of study on the subject of ancient Umbrian ceramics. A systematic and deliberate plunder of remains ensued, lasting for many years and making the fortunes of local antique dealers and some of the most important museums in the world, as well as the local Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

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