For someone as artistically challenged as me, I know A LOT about traditional Renaissance ceramics painting.
I know about mixing iron oxides with water, I know about glazing and how to use traditional squirrel fur brushes and a million historical tidbits. All this and more I learned from my friend Enzo.
Besides his total silver foxiness, he is the most passionate ceramics painter I’ve ever met. Not only can he recite history, technique, artists and locations over the span of 5 centuries, he also paints, draws and teaches.
I stumbled across Enzo four years ago when I was looking for something different to do in Florence, and my artistic life was set ablaze. I never considered myself artistic (creative yes, artistic no) but under his careful guidance, I’ve created some surprisingly beautiful ceramics.
What Kind of Ceramics?
If you’ve ever been to Tuscany you’ve likely noticed what type of ceramics I am talking about.
Brightly colored designs, hanging on the walls or out on display, plates, cups, dishes and more, they are sold almost everywhere.
Painted in vibrant reds, blues, yellows and greens, they scream Tuscany and Italy. But, have you ever wondered why they have become so iconic? It all dates back to the Renaissance, when Florence led the world in production of maiolica (this special white glazed pottery with a tin oxide enamel that we have been talking about).
Originally coming from the Middle East and Islamic Spain, we don’t know when or who exactly introduced this technique into Italy but once it caught on, all of Italy began producing this type of pottery.
Surprisingly though, Enzo tells me that it was so popular and common it wasn’t even considered art.
The “artists” who created these masterpieces were expected to produce one item every 7 minutes without any identifying marks. Each piece, even though painted by different hands, had to look identical to any other in the collection.
Today, this style is still popular and many Italian homes have some kind of traditional pottery still on their shelves. It’s also now considered an art form and most painters spend much more than 7 minutes on each piece.
Tourists and Italians alike love maiolica also because it makes for an interesting and popular souvenir. If you haven’t bought some, or would like to, be sure to know some key words. Ready to hit the shops?
Here are some words to have on hand!
— Dipinto a mano – Hand painted (look for this, so you know it’s authentic)
— Fatto a mano – Made by hand (another good way to know you’re buying an original)
— Decorato a mano – Decorated by hand (painted by hand but the pottery itself might be mass produced)
— Il piatto – Plate
— La ciotola – Bowl
— Il vaso – Vase
— La brocca – Pitcher
— Senza piombo – Lead free (important if you are going to use it for food!)
— Disegni floreali – Floral designs
— Servizio (di) piatti / Set per 8 persone – Dining set usually consisting of dinner plate, dessert plate and bowl (also sometimes called il servizio tavola)
— Il vassoio – The serving tray or plate
Interested in creating something yourself?
On our last Iceberg Project retreat, Enzo gave us a lesson in traditional Renaissance ceramics painting. Everyone’s plates turned out amazing! Read more about the retreat and our masterpieces out here.
Have you ever bought this type of souvenir from Italy? What did you get?