A short drive from Bascianella, on one of the roads over the mountains to just under Mount Camicia, is the hillside town of Castelli, home to one of Italy’s most well-known crafts – ‘Castelli’.
A type of ceramic, ‘Castelli’ is one of those art forms (like English cottage-ware and glass animals) that seems to provoke conflicting reactions from people despite this bright and colourful ceramic type being so hugely popular throughout Europe in the 16th & 18th centuries.
Majolica is the name given to pottery with clear coloured glazes. Its defining characteristic is the tin glaze that gives these ceramics a brilliant white, opaque surface to paint on. The paints themselves are applied as metallic oxides onto the unfired glaze and which absorbs the pigments like a fresco and preserves their intensity. Castelli ceramics then require 2 more wood firings to preserve their characteristic ‘pentacromia’ (5 colours – yellow, green, blue, orange and manganese brown) portrayals of flowers, plants, landscapes, the sun, moon, coats of arms, icons etc.
Commissions throughout the centuries by some of Italy’s most important nobles such as the Orsini, Farnese & Aragona families ensured the reputation of Castelli’s ceramics was maintained. The hill-town of Castelli is now one of the main tourist attractions of Abruzzo, particularly for the 13th century church of San Donato (which we have not been to yet admittedly) featuring the majolic altarpiece by Francesco Grue and a ceiling comprised of multicoloured ceramic tiles bearing designs & devices, and the Castelli ceramic museum located just outside the town in the cloisters of a convent.
However, most interesting from our limited experience is simply visiting many of the innumerable shops and studios selling the majolica ware in and around the town itself. There is a certain amount of repetition in the designs but they are still fascinating in their diversity and sheer numbers!
Pastoral/bucolic scenes vie for shelf-space with iconic images of astrological or religious nature and landscapes, on plates, tiles, vases & cups. Also available are the ceramic light-shades (like giant’s shinpads) with vocational images which make excellent presents, for the professional in your life, and more contemporary designs leaning often towards geometric abstraction…