I said in my last post about the ceramics of Vietri sul Mare that this popular pottery is thoroughly studied by Italian academics, and the Italian attitude to it contrasts with the indifference in the UK. (A pottery collector once dismissed my ceramics as “like the stuff you see in Italy”.) The Italian ceramic discourse also seems to be more highly developed. Here (allowing for my limited grasp of Italian) is what Giorgio Napolitano writes in Ceramica Vietrese 1924-1954:
“When we encounter the ceramics of Vietri from the German Period, we are confronted not so much with the products of popular taste as with a ceramic dimension in which the popular is symbiotic with the earth and in which a deep and intense process of communication occurs. At one point there occurred a vital exchange between Vietri and the representatives of an outside culture, in which the social and symbolic language of mutual understanding created a model for communal engagement. In the encounter with Vietri we discover a ceramic archetype, where, as in similar places, the traditions of earth, fire and form-giving material are inextricably linked with myth, ritual and the ancient tales that make up the collective heritage of the people. We talk of an archetype because gesture is mediated even by geography, by the earth’s primitive writing and by language. The first forms of communication between man and his origins are symbolic codes for the instincts and urges of the people of the ancient city of ‘Veteris’.”
More down to earth is a glaze recipe that Napolitano records. In the late 1920s, some of the manufacturers in Vietri were making glaze in the same way as as potters had been making it for hundreds of years. At Industria Ceramica Avallone (ICA), where some of the finest artists of the German Period worked, this is how they made their glaze:
95 Kg of lead and 5 Kg of tin were calcined together in a wood-fired kiln. The resulting frit was mixed with 150 Kg of white sand from the beaches of Tropea in Calabria, a little sand of Rome, 20 Kg sodium carbonate and 5 Kg borax mixed with a little sand of Rome. All were placed into a terracotta receptacle and fired to a glass, which was then shattered and milled. This glaze seems to be high in silica and low in tin, and may therefore have the basis for later additions.
Lucio Liguori, a local potter I met on the Amalfi coast, told me proudly that he mills his own glazes. Craft traditions coexist with volume production in Italian ceramics, and it’s amazing to see in the promotional video of the big Solimene factory that they still use kick-wheels for some of their work.
The pictures are of a plate from ICA from the same period as described by Napolitano so probably covered in the sort of glaze he records, and it’s the back that gives an idea of its qualities – a softness and irregularity, a silky surface and slight translucency through which the pink clay body can be seen. This pottery is very rare nowadays, fetches high prices at auctions and is often faked – but I doubt if any faker can make the glaze the way ICA made it in the 1920s.