The Castelli majolica – An historical and artistical synthesis

Ceramica Museo Castelli – Photo ©

Castellian ceramic art, which became famous in the sixteenth century, appears to have extremely ancient origins. It was probably the Benedictine monks, before the Valle Siciliana feudatories, who first introduced glazed ceramics around the 12th century.

However, the present center of Castelli has only developed as a town, and thus economically, since the fifteenth century. The early production of “engobed and engraved” ceramic and the archeological digs carried out in the drains of the old kilns confirm the growth of an industrial-type system, which was already widespread in the first half of the 15th century.

The engobing technique, which consisted of a coating of ceramic bisque using an earthy liquid dough, which was then colored and “graffito” (engraved), was soon followed by the majolica production. It differed from the first in that a rich glaze was applied to the bisque, thus appealing more to wealthy clients. Right from the start, the production methods, which combined economy and quality with innovative techniques, made Castelli one of the most renowned and esteemed centers of the Renaissance.

La Cappella Sistina della Maiolica
La Cappella Sistina della Maiolica – Photo ©

The use of engobing, for example, under the enamel, meant the majolica was much whiter, and consequently, less enamel was needed. The particular technique of the “breathing” oven, recently studied by researchers at the C.N.R. (National Research Council), led to a marked reduction in the use of wood because the fumes given off were used again in the combustion process. The genial but straightforward solution of painting only the outward-face of pharmacy pots or others used for the show while leaving the backs quickly but effectively decorated halved the time it took to produce them.

Finally, the plentiful supply of wood, clay, and water necessary to mill the stanniferous powder for the enamel was all characteristic of the economy of a place which, today, would seem too far from the markets, cut off from present means of communication and incredibly isolated amongst the mountains. Nevertheless, already at the beginning of the 16th century, Castelli had overcome its phase of imitating Umbrian products and was creating its own iconographic and morphological collection directed at high-level buyers in a European market.