"Inexorable is ... the generosity of the earth. Even omitting all of the benefits of the fruits, of wine, of apples, of herbs, of shrubs, of medicines, and of metals, ... only objects of terracotta ... fulfill us, giving us the tiles for the roofs, the bricks for walls, the receptacles for wine, the tubes for water and all of those objects which one makes on the wheel and forms with ones hands. For these reasons, [King] Numa established as seventh college that of the potters." – Pliny the Elder, Natural History
What we import from Italy is most often called Italian pottery, Italian ceramics, earthenware, majolica, or maiolica, and we have thousands of such pieces in our selection. The term maiolica is perhaps most particular, and it is the Italian term used to describe fired clay, terra cotta, that is covered with a white tin under-glaze upon which minerals are then applied. Maiolica is distinguished by the color of its white, opaque, color.
The making of maiolica is one that takes time and skill. It is made by artisans who have gone to school for the talent and have trained with master artisans. The method with which present-day artisans made maiolica is the same as it has been for centuries, though some of the materials used have become safer for use. Local clays throughout Italy vary in color and weight, so much work goes into refining and shaping the clay. After the artist cleans the clay and forms it into the desired shape, the clay piece is fired in the kiln for the first time. The cooked piece is dipped into a bath that will turn the clay white. This white glaze will prevent the colors from spreading and blurring into each other during the painting process. It also provides a nice background.
Colorful glaze is then skillfully applied by hand in the desired decoration by an experienced and talented painter who understands the complexities of coloration. When fired in a kiln for the seconda cottura, the minerals in the glaze react to the heat and become the bright colors we love so much.
The production of pottery that eventually became maiolica began in the 9th century, in Baghdad. By the 11th century, this art form was flourishing throughout the Islamic world, which then included the South of Spain. Trading vessels travelling between Spain and Italy used the island of Majorca as a port of call, and the ceramics that were being imported into Italy through Majorca came to be referred to as majolica.
Italians had already been making unglazed terra cotta pottery, such as pots and statues and water pipes. Items dating back to the 7th century BCE have been recovered in archeological digs and attributed to the Etruscan civilization. Wherever there was clay, people could add water and fire to create everyday items such as bowls, pitchers, ewers, amphoras for wine, and urns for oil. The tradition of pottery making carried on through the conquest of the Etruscans by the Romans. With time and the arrival of the Islamic influence, artisans adopted the more ornamental style and made a new unique style of their own, and in 400 CE glaze colors such as blue and green were applied.
The Italian Renaissance, beginning in the 14th century, lead to a rise in pottery production as it did for other art forms, and it was during this time that the production of Italian maiolica gained notoriety, allowing it to become its own artform. It became a symbol of high class, wealth, and good taste. It also became the fashionable and chic gift to give at engagements, weddings, and births, a tradition lasting through to today. Many nobles commissioned master artisans of majolica production to work in their homes as well as for the Cathedrals, renowned today, which were being constructed at that time.
The maiolica pieces made during the Renaissance may seem familiar to many people today because tradition has remained so important to artisans. It featured cheerful depictions of life, whether it was farmers tending to their fields or nobles relaxing in the shade. Popular designs also featured the flora and fauna of nature. More recent designs developed geometric patterns in the same bright and happy colors.
We at Bonechi Imports work directly with artisans in towns that are known for their ceramics. Some of these towns are not necessarily destinations for visitors unless they were travelling for the purpose of buying ceramics. While one can buy ceramics in nearly every town in Italy nowadays, there are only a few towns in which the ceramics are actually handmade.
We import from Deruta and Gubbio of Umbria, Montelupo Fiorentino and Strada in Chianti in Tuscany, Grottaglie in Apulia, Caltagirone and Santo Stefano di Camastra in Sicily, and just a few select pieces from Vietri sul Mare in the region of Campania. We make sure to import only from artisans who use means of production that result in authentic and safe ceramics. Our working relationships have developed into friendships as we have been working along with many of the artisans since the beginning of our work as importers, over thirty years ago. As a result, we have a wide range in our selection, and we have thousands of items to choose from.
We guarantee that each and every piece is individually handmade, and, therefore, each of the pieces differ ever so slightly from one another. Because they have been painted by hand, a few may have the occasional smudge or drop of paint made by the artist’s hand. Because each piece was built by hand, there is the occasional loose-fitting lid or handle of a different shape or slight variation in size or color from one piece to another. These are signs of the artist's work and the personality of the piece. Due to their handcrafted nature, variations may include shape, dimension, color depth, signatures and hallmark stamps, small flicks of paint or small areas with no paint, and even markings of the artist's hands. These are all evidence of the piece's originality and the artistry and work that went into them; they do not take away from the value of the piece. If you would like additional photographs of a particular item, please ask us.
All of our dinnerware and serveware is food safe. It is also dishwasher safe, though we do not recommend putting them in an industrial-strength dishwasher, such as one a restaurant would have. We also do not recommend putting them in a microwave nor a conventional oven.
Each artisan signs the piece in a different way, some signing by hand on the bottom and some using a stamp. Some sign on the face of the piece. Some do not sign at all. If you would like to know about the signature or hallmark stamp of a particular piece, please ask us.
As we have already mentioned, we have thousands of items in our selection, and navigating such a large amount can be daunting. We have arranged our site so that you can browse and search in a variety of ways. You can use the Browse Products menu if you know which pattern you seek, or whether you are looking for plates or mugs, or if you know which region you would like to browse. On our homepage we have the list of townships and areas where our ceramics were handcrafted. Of course, there is always the search bar! We hope this variety of ways will make your navigation as easy as possible.
We hope you enjoy our selection! Each pattern or piece has been hand-selected by one of the three of us over the past 30+ years so if you have a question we are happy to help. Enjoy!
Because the art of making Italian ceramics, or maiolica, has kept so well to tradition, there are a few modern-day conveniences that could harm your pieces. With proper care, maiolica can last ages, and we have just a few helpful suggestions to make sure you have your pieces for a long time:
We do not recommend using maiolica in a microwave oven and strongly urge against using it in a conventional oven. The heat goes straight to the maiolica instead of the food.
The dinnerware and serveware is food safe. It is also dishwasher safe, though it is prudent to wash some of the pieces by hand as some dishwasher brands, such as industrial-strength dishwashers, have water temperatures that are too high, which may cause crazing of the glaze. Crazing will not affect the use of the piece, but it does have a minor effect on its appearance as it results in fine lines forming on the surface of the glaze.
Another way to keeping your piece from crazing, or even breaking, is to avoid extreme changes in temperature. Sometimes our cabinets become very chilly, especially in winter. Pouring hot water into a very cold piece of maiolica, or placing hot food on one that is very cold, could cause cracking along the glaze. In the case of a very cold piece of pottery, it is best to place a metal spoon in the mug or teapot before adding the hot liquid so that the metal may attract and absorb the heat. In the case of platters and bowls that may have become cold, it would be prudent to run warm water it before placing the food. This is not something that needs to be done often, but it is best to be sure.
If the item is decor that you wish to keep outside, please bring it inside during freezing temperatures as well as any thawing period.
We are happy to answer any questions!
- Roberto, Lilias, and Brita