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Italian Ceramics

Italian ceramics can be found at specialty shops as well as large merchandisers.

No two pieces of Italian ceramics are alike. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
No two pieces of Italian ceramics are alike.

Italian Ceramics

Italian ceramics are hand-painted pottery crafted by a mastri ceramisti (master ceramist). Genuine Italian ceramics are made of natural clay coated in traditional tin and lead glazing recipes before being hand-fired.

Because these ceramics are handmade and hand-painted, no two pieces are identical. Even within matching dinnerware sets, there are slight variations, or even mistakes, found in the pottery, glaze and artwork of Italian ceramics. After prolonged use, Italian ceramic dinnerware and serving pieces may craze. Crazing occurs when the glaze takes on a crackled appearance. Crazed Italian ceramics are still safe to use.

Italian Ceramic Designs

Italian ceramics were inspired by ancient dinnerware from the Spanish Island of Majorca. As a result of this origin, the pottery is called majolica in Italy. The first Italian ceramics were made in the year 1350 and painted with the only two colors available, brown and green. According to the International Museum of Ceramics, in Faenza, Italy, these early Italian ceramics began in the region of Latium.

As these wares grew increasingly popular, small towns in Italy gained recognition for the quality of their ceramics as well as painting styles that came to represent each town's style. Montelupo and Deruta were two of the first villages to create original ceramic designs to become associated with a community. Many of these antique ceramic styles are still used to inspire modern pieces.

The most well-recognized antique Italian ceramics are from Deruta. Italian ceramics of that period were crafted in colors and designs still considered to be among the most beautiful Italian ceramic designs. The most popular Deruta design is the Raffaellesco pattern, named for the Renaissance painter, Raphael. The common central feature of this ceramic is the sea dragon. This fictional creature is considered to be good luck and was used by Raphael in his art.

The classic Montelupo designs of Italian ceramics are also inspired by Renaissance paintings. Italian ceramics from the town of Montelupo, near Florence, are often referred to as Tuscan designs.

Italian pottery gained popularity in the Victorian Era. During this time, Italian ceramic pieces were designed to reflect the intended use of the piece. For example, fruit bowls were painted with fruit designs and serving platters for meat were painted with rabbits or fowl. By the end of the Victorian era, the design possibilities of Italian ceramic painting were limitless. They frequently included such things as Chinese characters, dolphins and monkey illustrations. Although designs have evolved over the centuries, most Italian ceramic designs are still associated with the Renaissance era.

Finding Italian Ceramics

Italian ceramics can be purchased at specialty gift shops, though the selection is often limited and based on the preference of the store merchandiser. Some national chain retailers, such as Neiman Marcus and Williams-Sonoma, Incorporated, carry Italian ceramic dinnerware. These large, national retailers, however, offer only a limited selection of Italian ceramic patterns and pieces.

The Italian Pottery Outlet is an independent retailer based in Santa Barbara, California, that has the largest selection of Italian ceramics on the west coast. While Italian Pottery Outlet has a store location, the company has a thriving online business as well. Ceramica is a small chain retailer on the east coast that carries many Italian ceramic designs. Ceramica operates three retail stores in Connecticut and Rhode Island and also manages a large online business.

The prices of Italian ceramics vary from less than $20 for a small piece to more than $300 for a serving platter. There are many Italian ceramics websites offering a wide selection of pieces in classic and modern designs from virtually every region of Italy. Some online Italian ceramic retailers are based in Italy, working directly with artists or producers of Italian ceramics.

Site thatsArte.com is run by two women that work with various artists in six areas known for their Italian ceramics, including Umbria and Deruta. Italy Deruta MOD Ceramics is an online retailer and producer of Italian ceramics.

Identifying Italian Ceramic

Identifying artificial Italian ceramic pieces requires very little investigating. Genuine Italian ceramics cannot have identically matching pieces. Because they are hand-painted, each piece is unique and shows brush strokes from the artist. On the bottom of an authentic Italian ceramic, some small area should be unglazed. Because the glazing and firing are done by hand, this area is present on all Italian ceramic pieces. During the glazing process, pincers are used to dip the ceramic into hot glaze. As a result, there are tiny dots in the glaze at the top of each piece, though it is not an obvious flaw.

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