There are five amazing places in Italy to find gorgeous hand-painted Italian ceramics, each of them quite different from one another. If you're interested in purchasing beautiful hand-painted Italian ceramics then these are the places that are a MUST to visit.
About Liz Brewster
Architect, Urban Planner & Restorer Liz Brewster shared her insight and knowledge with me about Italian hand-painted ceramics and their history. Liz has lived in Italy for three decades and in addition to her professional expertise in architecture, urban design, planning and restoration she also has a lifelong passion for ceramics. Liz is also an accredited tour guide and leads tours on her own and also with Context Travel Rome.
Liz grew up in San Francisco and studied at the University of California, Berkeley where she obtained a degree in architecture. When she met her future husband Liz made the move to Italy and obtained the equivalent of a masters degree in architecture and restoration from Rome’s La Sapienza University.
Find Liz on Instagram and LinkedIn.
Liz’s passion for ceramics began in her growing up years because her mother was an artist and potter and Liz grew up with a kiln and potter’s wheel in her home. After Liz moved to Rome her passion for ceramics expanded, especially for hand-painted Italian artistic ceramics (known as majolica or “maiolica”).
Although ceramics have been around since the beginning of time it was only in the 1400s that hand-painted Italian ceramics really took off. And thanks particularly to the Islamic influence from both Iraq and Iran where artisans were making lusterware ceramics.
Lusterware ceramics have a metalic glaze and are baked three times in a kiln to achieve lusterware’s beautiful iridescent finish. Metallic compounds, usually silver or copper, are applied to the ceramics. The ceramics are then fired again at a much lower temperature which breaks down the metallic compounds and leaves its lustrous finish, hence the name lusterware. Italian nobility began using lusterware as it was gorgeous and also infinitely less expensive than gold or silver ceramic dinnerware.
Deruta and Gubbio in Umbria were the first Italian towns that learned how to make lusterware in the 1500s. Eventually both of these towns returned to making ceramics from soft clay and then hand-painting these maiolica ceramics.
To this day Deruta is still the best known Italian hand-painted ceramics city in Italy.
If you visit Rome Deruta is just an hour and a half north and a very easy drive. You'll find the town just off the highway and all along the main road it's filled with shops. You can also head up into the historic center which also has many shops. There’s not much to do in Deruta beyond ceramics but there's plenty of that. Probably every single family in the town is involved in the ceramics industry in one way or another. Shops close down at lunchtime so it’s best to get up to Deruta in the morning or plan to make an afternoon trip, or better yet enjoy a wonderful lunch while the shops are closed from lunchtime until early afternoon.
Deruta has a history of producing ceramics for export so if you find something you like it’s very easy to have items shipped home, or you can place an order for custom-made items and have them shipped out at a later date. Some shops in the United States sell Deruta ceramics but there’s nothing quite like picking out your own favorite design and items.
Here's a classic Deruta salad bowl you can buy online.
I’ve had many items made in Deruta and one of the better known shops is Fima, where I had these made.
Faenza is another wonderful Italian town that produces gorgeous hand-painted ceramics. Faenza is not far from Deruta in the neighboring region of Emilia-Romagna. Everything in Faenza is focused around ceramics so this is a great place to visit.
Be sure to visit the International Ceramics Museum which gives an overview of ceramics through history. There are roughly 6000 items on display and in addition to gorgeous hand-painted Italian ceramics there is a collection of contemporary ceramics that includes works by Matisse, Chagall, and Picasso.
There's a great market in Faenza well worth checking out. It's open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the Piazza del Popolo.
After you browse through all the wonderful ceramics shops make sure to enjoy the region’s fabulous cuisine. Try out some of the filled pastas like cappelletti, tortellini, anolini, and tortelli all filled with a variety of luscious fillings.
Grottaglie is located in the province of Taranto in the Puglia region in southern Italy. If you visit Puglia and you're interested in purchasing Italian hand-painted ceramics then you should consider a visit to this wonderful town which is also well known for some great wines. Grapes and the ceramics industry have been the lifeblood of this town for centuries.
The ceramics workshops are carved into soft stone that forms caves, or grottoes, which is where the town name Grottaglia comes from. Stroll around the roughly 50 different shops and artisan workshops where you can purchase plates and other tableware, and works of art. One of my favorite shops is Nicola Fasano, but stroll around and decide which shop and style you like best because each and every shop is a bit different. Each ceramic town in Italy has his own local flare and often produces unique local items like the glazed pumi in Grottaglie. Pumi are decorative items that are purported to bring good luck. The name comes from the Latin word for fruit and they look like a bud surrounded by four leaves. If you have time be sure to check out Grottaglie’s Museo delle Ceramiche.
Think about joining me for my fabulous weeklong trip to Puglia; Grottaglie is one place we visit.
Vietri sul Mare, Campania
If you head south along the Mediterranean coast past Naples and a bit further south from Positano you reach Vietri. You’re best off visiting this wonderful town off-season because it's almost impossible to find parking in high season. For the ceramics lover Vietri is a must and every corner of the town is filled with wonderful artisanal hand-painted ceramics shops.
You can purchase ready-made items or order custom made items; I've done both.
I ordered a set of eight soup bowls and a soup terrine some years back from Pinto and still love them!
The cost of Italian hand-painted ceramics largely depends on the intricacies of the design. Something quite simple like these pasta plates would be quite inexpensive.
On the other hand a platter like this one with an elaborate design would be quite costly.
Italian hand-painted ceramics are used to decorate walls as well as dishes and tableware. In this area you'll find hand-painted Italian ceramic tiles on the floors of many homes and hotels.
One shop I love that's been around for a couple of centuries is De Maio, and they are about 19 kilometers (a 20 minute drive) away from the town of Vietri sul Mare. De Maio makes gorgeous hand-painted ceramic floor tiles with wonderful classic designs. They are costly so I've only allowed myself to use these tiles in several of our bathrooms. De Maio ships overseas.
Each tile that you look at is splendid and then when it's laid out and matched up with the other floor tiles you see that they form another larger gorgeous pattern where the tiles join together. Each time I walk into our bathrooms I can't help but admire these tiles even though we've had them for years.
Recently we expanded a bathroom and added additional floor tiles and they are just ever so slightly different than the original tiles, which is typical when you are purchasing hand-painted artisanal ceramics. The colors used and the artisan painting the tiles can vary but it doesn't alter the beauty of the tiles.
In southern Italy and the areas around Vietri you will often see church domes with fish scale tiles like this one in Positano.
Positano is well worth a visit and full of beauty and unusual things to do during your visit.
Caltagirone in Sicily has some of the most gorgeous Italian hand-painted ceramics in all of Italy. One of the colors I love is the rich and vibrant, almost blood red that you often see there. If you think about Sicilian blood oranges that's almost exactly the color. Caltagirone ceramics have a strong Arab and Greek influence.
Caltagirone is an inland Sicilian city about 70 km southwest of Catania.
Caltagirone also has a museum of ceramics.
One of the most iconic ceramics you’ll find in Caltagirone are the famous Heads of Caltagirone.
In 1606 the beautiful stairs of Santa Maria del Monte were built and they connect the old town with the new town.
Giovanni De Simone Sicilian Ceramics
There are gorgeous ceramics almost everywhere throughout Italy with amazing artisans and artists that represent both classic and contemporary styles. One of my favorite hand-painted ceramics artists is Sicilian born Giovanni De Simone. Although he has passed away his two daughters carry on his legacy.
De Simone was born in 1930 in Palermo, Sicily and was strongly influenced by Pablo Picasso which is evident when you look at his work. Here is one of his vases that I purchased many years ago.
Even if you're not able to travel to the five amazing Italian hand-painted ceramic cities you can still experience the beauty of Italian ceramics online through Buongiorno Ceramica. This initiative is part of the Italian Association of Ceramic Cities and helps showcase the beauty of all the 45-plus Italian ceramic cities throughout Italy.
This past weekend on May 15 and 16 the annual Buongiorno Ceramica festival took place with open studios and festivities to celebrate Italian ceramics. This annual festival has taken place every year since its 1999 inception and last year due to Covid the entire program was online. Roughly 435 short video clips were created and are all viewable on YouTube.
You can find Buongiorno Ceramica on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.