Pentacromia sounds like something that should be in the script of The Exorcist rather than a term used for Castelli ceramics, but regardless of such darkly chromatic overtones, it is actually the word used to describe the palette of 5 colours which have historically been exported from Sardinia & Germany down to Abruzzo, and which are used traditionally in Castelli majolica.
Castelli’s Colourful Metal Pigments
Like many traditional paints, the pigments are obtained from oxidised metals:
Yellow – Oxidised Lead
Blue – Colbat
Green – Combination of blue, yellow & orange
Brown – Oxidised Manganese
Orange – Oxidised Iron
Castelli began to grow as one of Italy’s leading majolic producers in C12th, after a 497 masl frazione evolved in the Carolingian period from neighbourhood refugees who found respite in the cliffs looked down upon by Monte Camicia. This handcraft’s origins are believed to have developed with the Benedictine Monks, utilising the clay and bringing with them the colour palettes from their journeys abroad, spreading ‘The Word’.
By the time of C17th, the Castellani had perfected their art, decorating 1000 bricks in the local church of S. Donato; scenes of animals, heraldic & geometric devices, portraits and depictions of Mary. It is these that most of the 54 studios in Castelli still base their work upon. This church’s tiled ceiling was named as ‘The Sistine Chapel of Majolica’ by Carlo Levi, the painter, writer and famous jewish anti-fascist opposition party leader to Mussolini.
The process of creating Castelli ceramics can sometimes seem more impressive than what is actually produced, or maybe that’s simply because the end-result is a little too busy for some tastes. Cooled kiln-fired objects have the glaze applied, after which they are painted. This ensures the paint becomes one with the glaze, and that it doesn’t suffer from the paint peeling off. Each piece is then put back into the wood kiln to be re-fired twice at temperatures of some 950 C, which is what binds and creates that sealing gloss that Castelli ceramics are so famous for.
If you would like to explore a studio and see all of these processes I’d recommend visiting Antonio di Simone’s Vecchia Bottega Maiolicara. Sadly they don’t have a website, but their 3-tiered studio is fascinating to explore. I was recommended this Castelli studio for a visit by Sextantio, the boutique hotel in Santo Stefano, after complaining about the lack of white space in some Castelli work; Antonio does their house pottery so if like me you’d like to see a simpler form of decoration, pop in for a visit…
Antonio di Simone | Vecchia Bottega Maiolicara
20, Via Del Giardino | Castelli | Teramo | 64041
Tel: 0861 979003
Tip! Many of the Castelli studios, shops even restaurants are, only open on demand, however, the owners and artists mostly live close by and leave a number on the door for you to call if they appear closed.
Sam is a very lucky midlife mama to A who is 6 and she works as a self-employed freelance travel and food web content manager and copywriter. She is currently writing the book ‘Abruzzo: Folk and Food.
She is the co-founder of the social enterprises: The Abruzzo Blogger Community and Let’s Blog Abruzzo.
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I have acquired 2 flowered, painted dishes with the stamp of a castle on the back, and the words Castelli Italia on the back. They are similar in design, but painted by different artists, who have signed the plates. I have no idea of their age or value. Please help if you can.
great news! I have two dishes designed from Antonio for my cookbook: Breaking Bread in L’Aquila. The dishes will be shipped end of April. Limited edition and portion of net profits will be donated to an art school in Castelli. I will keep you posted ! m