Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011
Majolica is a type of ceramic dating from the Italian Renaissance. It is special in that it is tin-glazed which provides a special lustor to the work. It is really an art form in Italy and is found all over the place but Deruta, in Umbria is a town almost totally devoted to this particular ceramic. The town can seem a bit tacky actually but there is some really great stuff there.
Of course that leads me to a story. In the process of moving in January I ran across a bunch of stuff that hadn’t seen the light of day for years. That’s what happens after living in one place for over 13 years. One of the things (well, two actually) was the pair of business cards from a Deruta. Both are from the same guy, Antonio Margaritelli.
I met him the first time that I was there in approximately 1989. He was outside the studio drying some small ceramic pieces on wood set up over saw horses. He invited me inside to look around. He was amazingly enthusiastic about his work. He showed me historic pottery shards that he kept in a file cabinet, a shelf full of books on majolica. He dragged me down to his lower level workshop to show me around and showed me a portfolio with pictures of his work. There was a fireplace in Switzerland, a fantastic table in Germany. He was quite a guy and we had our picture taken together. I took that photo with me 7 or 8 years later when I knew that I was going to be in that part of Italy. He was delighted with the picture, commenting that he had more hair then. Of course I let him keep it so now I would have to scrounge through old negatives to find it. I really wanted to get a couple of candlesticks so we went searching through his storage area looking for the unpainted ceramic pieces. We found some that would be suitable but then he said that he could have them ready for me in only a month. So I didn’t get them but I certainly remember his enthusiasm and talent. You can Google him and see some fine examples of his work. His 16” plates now go for over $1500 – wow! I was fortunate enough to buy two small shallow bowls when I first visited his shop. When I did the Google thing for him I found a roughly identical bowl priced at about $500. Not the kind of bowl for salted nuts. The second bowl is, sadly, in pieces. I think that all of the pieces are there and that I will have it restored before too long.
I also have some things from Sienna (the candlesticks and teapot in the photo). The traditional style there is quite distinctive and different from the Deruta traditional styles. While I’ve not studied the styles in any detail I’d guess that this is pretty much true for any area where majolica is made. While it is great to buy such things in Italy you can certainly find them here. I have several things that came from Biordi Art Imports in San Francisco and recommend it if you are in the city.