Among all the handicraft activities of Gubbio, the art of making pottery is the one that has reached exceptional levels of technical and formal expression. Pottery art is one of the oldest and has accompanied man since remote prehistorical times to the contemporary age, since the time that he found out that wet clay could be moulded and consolidated on fire. By doing so, he could meet his need to contain liquid material without using an ox’ s horn or shells or fruit shells. It is still possible to discover some pottery fragments in the subsoil of Gubbio because pottery, unlike wood, clothes or other metals, seems to be indestructible. Thanks to these findings, today we know that in the 4th cent. B.C. in Gubbio there was the making of buccheros and pots. Pots of simple manufacture and without any decoration testify that this art was indeed poor in the early Middle Ages.
As documented by archive papers, the art of potters has existed since that century: Potters were united under the same name of Art, being, however, distinctly subdivided into those who produced simple and glazed terra-cotta, that could contain liquid material, and those who were more refined craftsmen both in the creation of shapes and decorations. The most ancient information we have about the art of majolica in Gubbio dates back to the year 1326 with Gonfalon Ugutius Jacomelli, who drew up a document with a list of potters who worked there during the whole of the 14th and 15th centuries.
In the Communal period there was a great number of potters that produced earthenware for domestic use and of potters who devoted themselves to the manufacture of elegant objects for more demanding customers, as well as of turners, printers, polishers and furnace-men. It was the time when pottery was decorated with various shades of green, emerald and Spanish-fly green, and majolica had graffito or candlestick-like decorations. However, the prestige of Gubbio’s pottery is linked to Master Giorgio Anreoli, who arrived in Gubbio in 1498. He came from Intra, a town on Lake Maggiore, together with his brothers Giovanni and Salimbene. They made luxury pots until 1518, when their shop started to produce a kind of majolica that emphasized the decorations, called lustres, in ruby and pale golden shades. It was particularly requested by the middle class, which at that time was fascinated by medioeval Arabian-Spanish and Arabian-Sicilian works. In a very short lapse of time, the works realized in the Master’s furnace became so famous that they reached even the table of the Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro and the court of Pope Lio X. In a script dated April 1519 the latter not only wrote about the valour of the artist but he also helped him to get the tax exemption on the basis of the relation between sublime technique and relative production.
Passeri wrote about him -"His works were in the houses of princes and great knights, realms of silverware, where this art was to be of high prestige and painting, representing the high prestige of the great sirs, was a noble practise."
The works from Master Giorgio’s shop are everyday objects and representation objects, where flower motives fuse together with allegorical-mythological or historical-religious motives and have precise reference to the engraving works by Marco Antonio Raimondi, Raffaello and to Michelangelo’s school.
Thanks to a survey carried out by Cipriano Picolpasso in the towns of the Dukedom of Urbino, we have come to know clearly that the the profession of ceramist in the sixteenth century was not as we intend it nowadays. At that time the artisan was a complex and articulated workman that turned on a lathe, made decorations and dealt with furnaces and, in particular, he was the one who possessed the processes and chemical formulas to obtain colours, enamels, paints and the basic components of the same. Therefore, little by little we see the development of a kind of decorations by using earth and paints on enamels derived from oxides of some metals such as tin, lead, iron, copper and silver. The techniques were developed to prepare the compounds to be used as dyes over the already glazed enamel. From the Renaissance period on, a particular use of metallic colours started, such as gold, silver and ruby red, that were applied by means of fire, both separately or in combinations to create iridescence effects. In the Middle Ages thanks to the development of alchemy and experimental chemistry, the metallic enamels were rediscovered after having been already used in the ancient cultures, particularly in the Egyptian and Arabian cultures. The use of these ancient techniques characterized the towns of Umbria and Marche, mainly the town of Deruta and in the dukedom of Urbino the towns of Gubbio, Urbino and Pesaro. The latter boasted a man of great interest, i.e. Master Giorgio da Gubbio, the only name that appears autonomously in the history of the Italian pottery art. In Gubbio and in the nearby area, where this tradition was culturally widespread, many attempts were made to reproduce and equalize the works and technique of Master Giorgio and his son Vincenzo. But the exceptional and rigorous original hand of the ancient artist has remained unequalled for centuries. Also today the quality and beauty of the iridescence by the Master from Gubbio is surely inimitable.
The works of Master Giorgio are exhibited in the most prestigious museums in the world: the Museum of Louvre, the Victoria Albert Museum of London, the archaeological museum of Bologna, the Metropolitan Museum of New York and in the Civic Collection of the Museum of Pesaro.
In the seventeenth century the artistic pottery from Gubbio had also other artists: we can mention the shops of Prestino, of Pietro and Simone di Salimbene. In the eighteenth century the white clay, called china, started to be worked. The secret of the precious working of lustres, known only to the great Andreoli, was not found out, despite the various attempts made also by Angelico Fabbri, a chemist and naturalist from Gubbio. After the publication of the manoscript by Piccolpasso in 1850, where he described the furnace, the baking method and the colours used by master Giorgio, Fabbri, together with Luigi Carocci, Giovanni Spinaci, Ubaldo Magni and Antonio Passalboni, did not succeed in reaching the same colours, even though they obtained more than positive results. In the twentieth century Ilario Ciaurro gave new life to the ceramics of Gubbio and Cesare Faravelli together with Marsilio Biagioli introduced the flower decoration of Hellenic- Alexandrian style, that, in the latest years, has replaced the ancient lustre decoration. In 1928, in the first Congress of Etruscan Studies, professor Polidoro Benveduti presented the technique of the bucchero and showed some examples, he had brought from his shop, of great technical and aesthetical interest. To conclude this short review about the potters from Gubbio before the Second World War, we remember, among the others, the brothers Alberto and Antonio Rossi for the making of buccheros and the CAM (Artistic Pottery by Mastro Giorgio) of Notari and Biagioli for the making of artistic majolica.

 

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