Documents dating back as early as the 13th century testify to ceramics being produced in Deruta, although it was not until between the end of the 15th and the mid-16th century that the town entered its golden age in terms of ceramic and pottery production, branching out from the manufacture of everyday domestic pieces to ornamental items decorated with geometric and anthropomorphic designs. As techniques improved, it became possible to include a whole new range of colours in the decoration of ceramic pieces, from intense cobalt blue to yellow, applied over several layers of glazing that produced an elegant range of shades of white. This period marked the success of ceramica a lustro glazed pottery – known at the time as majolica before the term was extended to indicate all kinds of glazed ceramics – and which was produced almost exclusively in Deruta’s workshops. In terms of their decorative motifs, many of the ceramics produced in Deruta at this time appear inspired by the paintings of Bernardino di Betta, better known as Pinturicchio. This was also the period that local workshops began producing their distinctive coppe amatorie jugs that were exchanged as gifts between lovers, while the floor tiles made in Deruta attained a high level of quality, also in terms of the colours used in their designs. The one made for the Baglioni Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Spello is among the finest surviving examples.
With the nickname “il Frate”, Giacomo Mancini stands as the best known ceramicist to work in Deruta, where towards the end of the 16th century the art began to decline and the original designs became contaminated by external influences. It was not until the early 20th century that the town retrieved its past splendour as a great centre for the production of ceramics, when a number of craftsmen such as Isocrate Casti, Salvatore Grazia, Angelo Artegiani, Domenico Grazia, Ubaldo Grazia, Alpinolo Magnini and Francesco Briganti began producing pieces using the old designs, decorations and colours. More than just a revival, the 20th century ceramic production in Deruta has also declined that century’s art movements, from Liberty to post-War avant-garde currents.
Today Deruta is Umbria’s most important centre for ceramic production, with a great number of workshops producing plates, objects, cutlery and even tables, both with classical or more modern decorative motifs. Before you start shopping at one of the many stores that line the E45 highway below, we suggest you head up into the Medieval part of town for a tour of the Museo Regionale della Ceramica, which will give you a clear picture of how ceramic art has evolved at Deruta through the centuries. The final rooms of the museum contain a selection of contemporary ceramic pieces, indicating that this town’s flourishing production has extended beyond mere reproductions of Renaissance pieces. The museum is housed within the listed former convent of San Francesco, not far from the 17th century Madonna dei Bagni Sanctuary – a small church whose interior walls are lined with an extraordinary collection of locally manufactured ceramic ex-voto and votive tiles, each with its own story of miraculous redemption. Some of these date back to when the church was built, their almost childish decorations a charming and valuable testimony to forgotten peasant customs and traditions.
"Umbria...Cuore verde d’Italia. Percorsi di qualità", Agenzia di Promozione turistica dell'Umbria, Perugia, pg.36, by kind permission.
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