The ceramics of Castelli, a small town in the Province of Teramo, prove that crafts have always played an important role in the economic and social life in Abruzzo.
The prestogious production, which has survived over the centuries, is no less than other important Italian centers like Deruta, Faenza and Urbino.
A BIT OF HISTORY
The relationship between Castelli and Ceramic has a very long history and the town offers many examples of it. So, if you are interested in art and crafts don’t miss a stop in this small center.
The art of Ceramic has been known in Castelli since the Middle Ages, but traces of this craft that have been found in the area date back to Pre-Roman times. When the Benedictine Monks arriving from the coast began producing it, they made the most of the raw materials, such as water, wood and clay, present in the area. Castelli, in fact, is situated at the foot of Monte Camicia, between two rivers. The precence of clay, wood and water, together with the creativity of its inhabitants, have created the perfect conditions for the development of this art in the town of Castelli. Since then, it has been the home of famous Masters who have handed down their craft from generation to generation. The most talented among them belonged to the Gentile, Grue, Pompei, Fuina and Cappelletti families. They were so well-known that in the 16th and 17th centuries the most powerful Italian and European families (Aragon, Farnese, Colonna, Orsini) commissioned their everyday and elegant dinnerware sets as well as the pieces meant to celebrate important political or private events. Artists were considered such important citizens in Castelli that they were eligible to hold public offices.
WANDERING IN THE TOWN
Once arrived in Castelli, have a look at the small handicraft shops and workshops. You will be able to observe some of the artists while forging and painting their pottery. The tour of the town will take about an hour but you could also stay longer indulging yourself in those shops. After the visit, a short walk brings you to the rural Church of Saint Donato, which was defined as the Sistine Chapel of Italian Majolica. Its ceiling is composed of 780 decorated majolicas. Today there are the copies of the original bricks which are preserved in the Museum of Ceramic.
THE PRODUCTION OF CERAMICS
The clay is forged using a lathe – once a pedal loathe – giving the piece of ceramic the desired shape. The piece of terracotta is consequently put in a tank full of glaze where it takes the characteristic white color of majolica. From this moment, the artist can start to decorate the object. The colors used to paint the pottery have always been made locally. Due to toxicity of these colors, they were made outside the town, near the river. The color palette of Castelli called “Tavolozza Castellana” consists of only five colors: orange, blue, green, brown and yellow. The use of red has been introduced in the second half of the eighteenth Century by Gesulado Fuina.
Once decorated, the ceramics are fired for a second time in the oven at about 900°C. Traditionally, artisans used a wooden oven called “forno a respiro” as it emanated a sound similar to human breath. The process of firing was long and laborious. The artisan had to pay constant attention to the oven in order to keep the right temperature. To avoid falling asleep they used to spend time making whistles. It’s only after firing that the artist can see if the final result is what he expected to be. The most precious pieces of ceramics are decorated with gold, silver or platinum; these pieces need a third firing at about 700°C.
WHERE YOU CAN ADMIRE THESE HANDMADE MASTERPIECES
- Museum of Ceramics in Castelli;
- Museum Acerbo in Loreto Aprutino, in the Province of Pescara. The Museum hosts an important private collection belonged to Baron Giacomo Acerbo. it consists of about 570 pieces, probably the largest collection of ceramics from Castelli;
- Museum “Villa Urania” in Pescara. It hosts about 146 masterpieces of the precious majolica
- An important collection of ceramics from Castelli can also be admired at the Hermitage Museum in St. Peterbourg; the collection consists of about 70 works that were purchased by the russian Tsars between the sixteenth and the seventeenth century.