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…
Click here to view a slideshow of Castelli
Roddy Newlands is co-editor for lifeinabruzzo.com, Abruzzo allows him to get his mountain-air fix, & satisfy his passion for pasta & panettone. He works full-time for groBlogs where he boosts online business development for clients via his super duper online marketing skills
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I am also very interested in purchasing a vase just like the one I purchased when I was in Castelli 3 years ago. PLEASE, if you know of anywhere I can purchase online, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I was born in Castelli and was beginning to learn the trade of Majolica ceramics. We came to the states when I was 12. It has always been my dream to sell the great artistic and colorful ceramics of Castelli. The dream is still alive… I hope to have a website soon.
Un Castellano (a native of Castelli)
I still have a fruit bowl that I bought whilst still engaged to the father of my 2 daughters. Our eldest turned 21 today.
I love that fruit bowl and it's bright colours as much today as I did then.
Is it possible to buy 'Castelli' pottery online as I would love to add an espresso set to my bowl?
What a lovely story! At the moment I don't know of any that sell online, I will keep an eye out for you. I could give you an email address of one studio we do know up there and you could perhaps you could email them and send them an photo of your fruit bowl and ask if they could create an espresso set similar? Let me know
[…] its backbone (the Campo Rigopiano) taking this small Gran Sasso mountain pass road that runs up via Castelli, home of Abruzzo ceramics, ending at Castel del Monte – great for biscuits and cross country […]