The history of ceramics of Caltagirone, Sicily is doubtlessly millennial. Since human kind has learned how to dominate the four elements, in Caltagirone (Sicily) there have been artisans able to create original colours and shapes. When men starting to live on agriculture they began making big containers and small vases made of a black-grey mixture with geometric decorations or stylized animal or human figures. In addition to these ancient local traditions, Greek traditions appeared as well. Cretans around 100 B.C. brought to Sicily the use of the potter’s wheel. During the Roman and Byzantine domination there was a period of decline.
Arabs conquered Sicily in the year 827, they settled in Caltagirone and introduced new techniques in the local production of ceramics. These techniques related to new shapes, colours and decorations born in the Middle East. Decorations seemed to refer to the frisky Sicilian textile art and embroidery, the colours – firstly manganese, later green, yellow-orange and cobalt blue – referred to the bright Sicilian landscape. The flooring field saw a productive bond between architects, who used the ceramics to embellish the rooms of the aristocratic palaces or the naves of churches, and artisans who reproduced the same colours used in the production of the vases.
The Eighteenth century signed the period of maximum development and spread of the Ceramics from Caltagirone. Today we can still admire the amazing bond between the ceramics and the architecture whose major examples are: the facade of San Pietro’s church, the Ventimiglia balcony, the entrance of the Ceramics museum, the Santa Maria del Monte staircase and the Monumental Cemetery.
What characterised the ceramics from Caltagirone is the decoration put on creative, brilliant and elegant domestic products of everyday use. Chandeliers, vases, light, oil-lamps, inkpots, baking-.pans. In hundreds of workshops, artisans also create elegant sculptures to represent characters and daily life scenes.
An Easter tradition is the one of Fischietti: made of terracotta, raw clay or visibly coloured, fischietti are statues of a multitude of different figures with magic and allegoric values. They were originally considered poor toys with mediocre importance, the perfect spring gift for children. Today fischietti are valued collectors’ items.
In order to cherish the history of ceramics and protect their future two important institutions have been established in the town of Caltagirone: The museo della ceramica (ceramics museum) established at the beginning of the 50’s, it collects the most significant proofs of the ceramics art in Sicily from prehistory to modern times. The scuola della ceramica (ceramics school) that keeps instructing young future artisans.
The legend of the teste di moro (black heads): the legend tells the story of a beautiful lady living in Sicily during the Arabic domination around the year one thousand. Her skin was rosy like peach blossom, her eyes seemed to reflect the light-blue of the sea. Locked in her house she would spend her days taking care of the flowers on her balcony. One day a young moro (Arabian man) walking under her balcony noticed the beautiful lady and decided to ask her hand. Without hesitation he entered her house and declared his love, the young woman moved by his passion surrendered. Sometime later she found out that his beloved was about to leave her to return home to his wife and children. So she waited for the night and while he was sleeping she decapitated him and made his head a vase where she planted basil and then put on her balcony to keep her company forever. The basil plant grew very quickly making everyone in the neighbourhood envy so that bit by bit all the people in the village started to ask artisans to produce clay vases with human features.
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