LA CERAMICA DEL XX SECOLO A FIRENZE
a cura di Gilda Cefariello Grosso
Florentine ceramic production in the twentieth century tells us the story of an era rich in cultural choices and experimentation that brought to light an important number of new and original works to testify to the richness of a century in constant flux. These pieces insert themselves with authority into the historical, cultural and artistic context of the entire twentieth century, not just the Italian experience. This vast and complex subject surely merits a more in-depth study and here in this essay, which is by necessity brief, we will tra-ce a short account of the major events by outlining some of the most important artists and their works to illustrate their contribu-tions to the modern concepts of Florentine ceramics. It is important to understand the period between the eighteen hun-dreds and the nineteen hundreds to fully understand the attention that was paid to European events in our country. Europe developed of a new style, with modern connotations, that involved all sectors of the applied arts. In England artists developed to a new concept of the decorative arts.
During the second half of the eighteen hundreds a movement star-ted and established principles of a new aesthetic that aimed at sur-passing the culture of eclecticism. These new ideas quickly propagated all over the European continent. This new reform movement was interpreted differently in each country, and despite common goals, each country gave birth to unique ways of expressing these new ideals. Each had their own stylistic currents with their own names: the Modern Style in England, Art Nouveau in France, Jugenstil in Germany, New Kunst in Holland, The Sezession Stil in Austria and the Liberty or Floreale in Italy.
Therefore, between the eighteen hundreds and the nineteen hun-dreds, our country came to a new uderstanding of the applied arts. This is primarily due to the sensibility of the Florentine artist Galileo Chini (1873-1956). He immediately understood the event in England and this new modernist movement’s vision, quickly appre-ciated the ideas of artists like William Morris in England and the Belgian Henry van de Velde.
In 1896 Galileo Chini and a few friends: Vittorio Giunti, Giovanni Montelatici and Giovanni Vannuzzi, founded in Florence a small factory called L’Arte della Ceramica located in Via Arnolfo. This small studio produced modern works that received a great deal of consensus and not just in Italy. In the first years after it opened, Chini adopted a repertoire that defines the Liberty or Floreale style: flowers with long stems like iris, tulips and poppies, accompanied by long fluctuating leaves that are depicted in soft rythmatic arcs. Often beautiful female faces, inspired by Botticelli, appear in the foliage. Mucha’s influence is clearly visible. L’Arte della Ceramica developed a style of formal synthesis that is clearly inspired by the work of the Viennese Sezession artists. It is also interesting to observe the attention that Galileo Chini pays to developing a new way of rendering the decorative composition. The most pertinent reference is the modernist graphics that the European artists bor-row from Japanese prints. In several pieces we can see how Gali-leo Chini designed a two dimensional plane that features a com-plex synthetic drawing with a continuous line. Even the background colour is now proposed in large areas without resorting to the use of chiaroscuro passages. The evolution of the the modern sense of Florentine, and by extension Italian, ceramics is due specifically to the work of this small factory and the intuitions of its artistic director, Galileo Chini. In fact, in our country, and Florence is no exception to this, ceramic production and many other types of artistic expression has its roots in masterpieces from our past. In these revisitations some factories stand out among the many producers that were active in the Florentine territory: for example Ginori di Doccia, which became the Società Ceramica Richard-Ginori in 1896, the Manifattura Canta-galli in Florence and the Manifattura di Signa directed by Camillo Bondi. The adherence to the new aesthetic style that was develo-ping throughout Europe was very limited. For example, the reperto-ry of the Manifattura di Signa was principally tied to the re-edition of famous works from the past, while the attention paid to modern works was very limited and consisted of the production of a group of small figures designed by the sculptor Giovanni Prini (1877-1958). Even the Manifattura Cantagalli proposed a production ba-sed on the modern style which concentrated primarily on the Florale style, while its main production was focused on the work that made it famous, that is, the admirable revival of ceramic works from the past. The Society Richard-Ginori di Doccia only updated its repertoire for the International Exhibition of The Decorative Arts in Torino in 1902. In fact, to participate in this event the regulation required the presentation of works of a modern nature. On this oc-casion Manifattura di Doccia created pieces which were characteri-sed by a radical new style: refined place settings, elegant vases in the form of female figures or with floral motifs, original lamp stands of corollas or depicting the embrace of a nymph and a satyr. The newspapers of the day reporting on the 1902 Intentional Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Torino underlined this shift “Modern Florence wants to show that it preserves the attitudes and spirit of traditional Florence and in fact no other city has as many ceramic exhibitors in Torino” (*) In addition to the factories mentioned above it is possible to note many additional ones like that of Florentia Ars, the Ditta Salvini and the Società Ceramica Artistica Fiorentina (SCAF) founded by Vittorio Giunti after he left the position of Technical Director of L’Arte del-la Ceramica in 1901. But it is precisely L’Arte della Ceramica that will establish itself as an important producer of avantgarde works by presenting stunning new works in stoneware (gres) for the first time at the Torino Exposition in 1902. These are some of the first examples of the use of this material in Italy, while it was quite common in the rest of Europe. This was partially due to the fact that European ceramicists were more heavily influenced by Japa-nese production and for decades stoneware would be the favourite material of potters tied to the modernist movement. Certainly one cannot fail to note the development of the ceramic industry which took place at the end of the nineteenth century in the area surroun-ding Sesto Fiorentino. The most interesting of these productions was the Societa’ Ceramica di Colonnata founded in 1891 and the Societa’ Industriale per la Fabbricazione di Maioliche Artistiche (SIFMA) founded in 1896 and which became the Manifattura Fan-techi in 1905. Among the most interesting producers in the Florentine territory one must cite the Fornaci S.Lorenzo for their high quality. This factory was founded in 1906 in Borgo San Lorenzo, in Mugello, by Galileo Chini and his cousin Chino (1870-1957), after they abandoned L’Arte della Ceramica between 1904 and 1905. In this moment Galileo Chini, with the help of Chino’s excellent technical skills, imposts a production that moves in a new direction. In fact the naturalistic Florale style is definitively replaced by more stylised patterns that have their origins in the principles of the Viennese Sezession movement. These new trends adopted by Galileo Chini constitute an evolutionary moment of considerable importance not only for the Florentine style but also for the history of Italian ceramics. The serious crisis due to the outbreak of the First World War also had enormous repercussions on the ceramic industry which would see a slow recovery in the 1920s thanks to the stimulus provided by the Monza Biennale. It provided Gio Ponti (1891-1979) with the opportunity to renew the Società Ceramica Richard Ginori’s production. These works tan-gibly influenced many companies in Florence. Ponti was able to re-juvenate the traditional repertoires of this historic factory with a large variety of new proposals. Ponti’s designs, in both porcelain and maiolica, are characterised by a modern refinement that was ex-tremely successful when they were shown at the first Monza Bien-nale in 1923. Ponti’s work includes classical scenes such as “Youth” or “The Classical Conversation” but he also proposed many reinterpretations of themes including amphorae, urns and cysts. However there is no lack of popular elements, worldly themes, with subjects taken from the circus or sports. The renovation of the Manifattura di Doccia certainly influenced many other factories around Sesto Fiorentino, such as Barraud Messeri &Co or Carraresi e Lucchesi, both created pieces with modern themes and marked formal simplifications that are not im-mune from futurist influences and a chromatic scheme that featu-red shades obtained with the airbrush technique.
In this period a very original contribution was provided by the pain-ter Enzo Ceccherini (1841-1971) from Sesto Fiorentino, who was able to expertly apply the pointillist technique in his decorative sty-le. Several attempts at stylistic renewal are made during this period.
For example the Manifattura di Signa proposed large orchi with a very rational structure. Manifattura Catagalli tried to update its re-pertoire between the twenties and the thirties by engaging modernist artists such as Guido Balsamo Stella (1882-1941), Gianni Va-gnetti (1897-1956) and the sculptor Romano Dazzi (1905-1976). Rural works inspired the artist Giuseppe Piombanti Ammannati (1898-1996), a native of San Lorenzo a Colline, in the province of Florence. A unique character, his work consists primarily in models and there is no lack of attention for contemporary sculpture, above all that of Arturo Martini, which was well suited to translating his imaginative ideas. The Florentine Marcello Fantoni (1915-2011) made important contributions to ceramics. His activity started in the thirties and continued past the year two thousand. His personal in-terpretation of subjects such as the so-called ‘Harlequins’ typical of seventeenth century Montelupo ceramics, is often cited from his early period. Fantoni began to experiment with many different styli-stic ideas ranging from the rustic taste to material effects and these will characterise the trends of his postwar period. In the period between the two wars our country showed a particular interest in the so-called ‘rustic art’ and popular taste. Many artists sought to recreate the ‘Italian Spirit’ in work that returned to the roots of the popular Mediterranean tradition. The Manifattura Zaccagnini, a Flo-rentine ceramic factory, was essentially oriented towards reproduction works and will follow this direction with great success. In the thirties Urbano Zaccagnini, son of Ugo the company’s founder, pre-sented a new line that was decorated with a new motifs including ‘a corde’, ‘a intonaco grafito’ and ‘a stuoiato’ and was able to create works with a rustic feel but characterised by great originality. The pieces tied to the Walt Disney figurines that this factory produced were very famous and Zaccagnini was able to obtain the exclusive rights. The crisis caused by the beginning of the Second World War was slowly overcome in the post war period and new proposals, both in terms of quality and variety, appeared. Florence in this pe-riod really had an extremely interesting artistic panorama, in part due to its individual artists. Marcello Fantoni is an example, he focused on experiments that produced excellent results: the essential geometry of his ceramics present a chromaticism that enhances his structure while often he uses a limited range of colours to create unusual effects on rough surfaces. Eugenio Patterino’s (1885-1971) is also very relevant to the deve- lopments in this period. He is very sensitive to the innovative impulses of the period. His interest in ceramics begins in 1939, after his experience with sculpture where he used both marble and bronze as his expressive means. In clay he demonstrates a preference for brilliant tones that go well with his pie- ces while also providing them with a unique vitality which were combined with opaque backgrounds. Particularly lively colours also characterised the work of Arnaldo Miniati (1909-1979), this artist was very active in the postwar period, he imagined unu-sual forms and was therefore able to make a very personal contri-bution to modern ceramics. His studio, situated in Florence—first in Via Lando and them in Via del Mascherino, became a school for ceramicists and was even recognised by the Ministry of Public In-struction. Interest for primitive works is clearly evident in the work of Bruno Paoli (1915- 2005), a Florentine artist who became intere-sted in ceramics in the middle of the forties. Designs inspired by archaic civilisations appear in many of his works. Paoli was in tune with the contemporary art of his time and his work is often cha-racterised by quick calligraphic strokes which sometimes appear on wide surfaces or deeply engraved in the clay. Some interesting work also comes from the studio of Ugo Lucerni (1900-1989) a ce-ramist originally from Parma. Conceived with a formally reduced compositional scheme, Lucerne’s work is also notable for its com-pelling use of colour to produce delicate but dynamic effects on the surfaces he created. At the beginning of the nineteen fifties Guido Gambone (1909-1969), who proved to be one of the most signifi-cant artists in contemporary ceramics, opened a studio in Florence. His activity as a ceramist began in Vietri at the end of the twenties. In the Tuscan capital he had the opportunity to create a surprising repertoire filled with original proposals which made use of maiolica and stoneware. He was often inspired by traditional ceramics that provided him with structural and decorative solutions. In his unique pieces this all translates into powerful shapes, regardless of their size, that are greatly enhanced by their tactile glazes. Guido Gam-bone is also the author of a repertoire of work that concentrates on volumes resulting from extremely geometric forms that denote a remarkable formal elegance. After his death in 1969, his workshop continued its activity under his son Bruno (1936-2021). Bruno Gambone’s compositional research is focused on creating essential lines. With remarkable balance he organises his very expressive decorations. They are characterised by an very essential style that nonetheless provides his surfaces with great vitality. A very different style is found in the works of Federico Fabbrini (1928-2007). Origi-nally from Arezzo, but Florentine by adoption, his works present di-stinct but significant phases. His works from the 1950s are charac-terised by an extreme attention to the definition of structure combi-ned with precise chromatic choices to produce pieces of graceful elegance. Later, he develops an interest in Industrial Design and produced works which concentrated on their functionality. His at-tention also fell on the production of fairytale subjects like the uni-que puppets and elegant theatres that he produced over the years. Salvatore Cipolla’s (1933-2006) experience could not have been more different. Originally from Sicily, he established himself in Se-sto Fiorentino. Son of a ceramist, he first learned the trade from his father. Later, in 1953, the year he graduated from the Insituti d’Arte di Firenze, he began his activity as an artist. He continually experi-mented with ceramic materials to create works that are heavily influenced by primitive civilisation. References to rural civilisation are also clearly present in his work and he handles religious subjects with a very concise formal language and a balanced chromatic palette. Another sculptor who developed a singular body of work is Nello Bini (1915-1998) . Originally from Santa Maria a Monte in the province of Pisa, he moved his studio to Bagno a Ripoli at the end of the fifties. It was in this period between the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties that he made numerous experiments in the Informal style using different materials including ceramics. A strong organisational intent can be seen in his structures as he concentrated on constructing forms that focused on abstract-geometric modules in complete harmony with the malleability of his materials. Harmony and delicacy also characterise the work of Lu-ciano Landi. An artist much younger than many of the others cited, Landi was born in Florence in 1942. After he studied at the Instituto d’Arte and the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze he became intere-sted in the world of ceramics. In 1974 he opened his own studio in the centre of Florence. His research is characterised by an extremely accurate definition of his structures and his elegant calli-graphy. From Montelupo Fiorentino, Bruno Bagnoli’s (1914-1975) contribution is undeniably interesting. In the thirties he began collaborating with different local factories, while in the post war period he began a more personal research that gave life to more innova-tive forms for both everyday objects and one of a kind pieces. Surely these works did not go unnoticed by Gio Point who chose Ba-gnoli in 1951 for the Triennial di Milano. A factory that made great contributions to the development of modern ceramics in Florentine area is surely Bitossi in Montelupo. Founded in 1921, the elevated quality this factory’s production is primarily due to the sensibility of its director Aldo Londi (1911-2003) from 1946 to 1976. Londi created various modern series, for example the Rimini Blu line, which went into production in 1959. This line is characterised by its bril-liant blu glaze, the result of Londi’s personal research in which he pushed the confines by creating a heavily decorated surface using incisions to suggest ancient writing. The fifties also marks Ettore Sottsass’ (1917-2007) collaboration with Bitossi and, in particular, with Aldo Londi. This surely created a certain openness in the fac-tory to modernist ideas. Bitossi continued to collaborate with impor-tant artists, for example in the eighties with the artistic group na-med Memphis which was which included artists Matteo Thun, Mi-cele De Lucchi and Marco Zanini. It is possible to access documen-tation on these collaborations directly at the Florentine Archivio Museo Bitossi, inaugurated in September of 2021. The larger Flo-rentine area boasts three major research institutions on ceramics: the Archivio Museo Bitossi, the Museo Richard-Ginori della Manifattura di Doccia in Sesto Fiorentino and the Borgo San Lorenzo Mu-seo which is dedicated to Chini and his work, these unique institutions are of great importance because they provide a reference point for new ceramists.
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Florence, 25 Marzo 2022