The town of Deruta (province of Perugia, region of Umbria) made Italian Pottery ceramic production central to its economy – to the extent that by the end of the 13th century, Deruta’s production allowed it to pay its taxes to Perugia in vases instead of cash.
Today, Deruta is likely the most famous of AICC cities with some 250 active ceramic production firms or shops.
So, while production of pottery can and does vary from region to region and even among producers in the same town, as we discuss stages of the process, let’s imagine us in Deruta.
Specialised clay working techniques
Your knowledge of specialised clay working techniques will deepen watching IL TORNIANTE(The Potter) up to his elbows in clay at the wheel pulling up pitchers, bowls, vases and other articles in rounded or cylindrical shape.
Depending on the company producing the Italian Pottery and their willingness to divulge the information!), approximate firing temperatures range between 1400 to 1850 degrees Fahrenheit. After two days of firing and cooling, the unfinished clay pieces are referred to as bisque or biscotto.
isque dipping stage, LA SMALTATURA (The Glazing)
If you get to see the bisque dipping stage, LA SMALTATURA (The Glazing), you’ll witness the pieces grasped with tongs and dunked into a fast-drying white glaze that will serve as backdrop for the design. Each Italian Pottery producer of majolica pottery guards the chemical formulation of this bath like treasure because it is the quality catalyst for color tones, glazing texture and uniformity during the next firing.
LA PITTURA (The Painting)
After the white underglaze dries for about 24 hours, we come to LA PITTURA (The Painting), the exacting, meticulous decoration of the piece. Here you may see totally freehand painting or learn about a stencil method called pouncing or spolvero. (Michelangelo employed this same process for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. His full-scale line drawing on paper was punched with holes, held against the ceiling and padded with a powder-filled sack, leaving faint design lines for the painting of his masterpiece.) The pouncing sack used on the Italian Pottery underglaze is filled with a fine carbon powder that disappears during firing.
The lines have a two-fold purpose. They prevent the colours from bumping and blurring into each other, and they give an outline to the artist of the basic design, assuring continuity to patterns and simultaneously laying the foundation for the artist’s hand painting. Do not be
alarmed or disappointed at the thought of a “pattern.” This is no paint-by-numbers process. The painters must command a huge understanding of the complexities of the coloration because the “colours” they apply at this stage are all gray-to-black tones, dull and pasty against the white underglaze. The artist’s work springs to life only during the second firing (discussed below) as the catalysing heat transforms these greys and blacks into brilliant colours.
Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?
It does mine, because the outcome of all these integrated, integral steps is lustrous, vibrant pieces of authentic Italian pottery – canvasses of arte that you also now know as majolica.