The Ceramics of Castelli

In Italy’s picturesque Abruzzo region, just under the stunning Mount Camicia, lies the charming hillside town of Castelli, home to one of Italy’s most well-known and intricate crafts – the Castelli ceramics. An art-form dating back over five centuries, Castelli ceramics combine traditional processes and dedicated artisanship with unique, attractive and instantly recognisable designs, and its no surprise that the residents of the town are incredibly proud of their heritage and their continued exports. As the town’s famous Lancio del Pattio festival approaches, we take a closer look at the story behind the art form.

A Historic Art Form

Also known as majolica – the name given to pottery created with clear coloured glazes – Castelli was hugely popular throughout the 16th – 19th century, and is nowadays regarded as one of Italy’s most popular crafts. In fact, it is widely accepted that during this time period, the ceramics produced in Castelli were the pinnacle of majolica production!

Castelli ceramics are made out of local clay and then topped in the majolica style with a clear, colored glaze.  But what makes Castelli special is that it is also coated with a tin glaze, creating a perfectly white surface on which to paint. Designs are then painted using a metallic paint, which is absorbed into the white with intense color.  It isn’t until the painting is complete that the clay is put into a wood fire—twice—to harden.

Bursts of Colour

The artwork and patterns associated with Castelli ceramics are largely traditional, showcasing bright, busy and colourful designs depicting everything from religious scenes and coats of arms to natural landscapes, animals and even astrology.

Traditional Castelli ceramics will only include the characteristic pentacromia (five colours – yellow, green, blue, orange and manganese brown), and due to the glazing and hardening methods these colours retain their intensity long after they are created.

Castelli ceramics were so widely respected throughout the centuries that some of Italy’s most important nobles such as the Orsini, Farnese & Aragona families commissioned custom Castelli dinnerware – a practice that helped Castelli retain its reputation as a refined and elegant art form.

Lancio del Pattio

The artists – or artigiano, as they are known by the locals - who create Castelli ceramics are incredibly passionate about the high quality of their work, and even today many will only allow the public to see and buy pieces that they believe meets these high standards of quality. The town is full of shops selling unique pieces, and the highlight of the year is the August a Castelli, a month-long, city-wide street market where artists display their best work.

During this time, the town’s appreciation for high standards shows itself in a fascinating and dramatic tradition – the Lancio del piatto. Every year on 15th August , locals take all of the pieces that are deemed unfit for sale to an area near the Leomogna River and begin an energetic and exciting ceremony which involves smashing the poorly made Castelli! Truly a spectacular, unique and fascinating way of ensuring the legacy of one of Italy’s most respected art forms.