Discover Italian Art Nouveau

Handcrafted Deruta ceramics and Brescia pewter

Art Nouveau developed in the 1890s across Italy and the rest of Europe, energizing the art scene with its exciting and seductive works of art that continue to influence contemporary artists and designers today.

Refusing classicisms and Europe’s modern identity of industry and mass production, artists purposely set out to revolutionize art and create something new – hence Art Nouveau. They drew inspiration from nature, abstracting organic subjects into sophisticated, flowing motifs.

Seeking to infuse everyday life with a new aesthetic, Art Nouveau sewed fine arts and craftsmanship together while successfully tearing down the hierarchies between the arts.
Traditional handicrafts had a glorious revival, with artists aiming to enrich the lives of the public by improving the design of domestic spaces and objects.
Art Nouveau’s legacy continues to inspire Italian artists and artisans today. We have handpicked a small selection of pewter and ceramic works of art to discover and delight in.

Discover our hand-picked collection of Art Nouveau ceramics by Francesca Niccacci from Deruta and pewter tableware and home décor by Cosi Tabellini from Brescia.

Italian Ceramics and Lemons: a Timeless Love Story

Lemons have been decorating Italian pottery for centuries, especially in the Southern regions of our beautiful country. Whether sculpted, molded or painted, lemons are a favorite subject for Sicilian heads, dinnerware, tiles, backsplash panels and a vast array of home décor accessories.

Why are lemon-themed ceramics so popular?

Since antiquity, lemon trees have been considered a valuable luxury and a symbol of prosperity. Their fruit is a symbol of the Mediterranean lifestyle, sunny outdoors, blue skies and leafy greens. Lemons’ sunny yellow evokes energy, light, warmth. No wonder lemons have been inspiring generations of Italian artists and artisans!

Lemons and interior design

Lemon-themed ceramics are the perfect accents for Mediterranean decor style. A geographical variation of the much broader coastal decor trend, it focuses on light and warm color schemes, and extensive use of natural materials such as ceramics, wood, and wrought iron. Statement pieces, such as bold ceramic Sicilian heads, large planters, rich textiles and tilework, are often used to amp up the space’s color.

The true nature of lemons

The proverbial phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” has somehow given lemons a bad rap. It implies lemons are sour or difficult, when they are quite the contrary. Perhaps the person who coined that phrase just never visited Italy in late spring, when luscious lemons are at the peak of their harvest. Picking a large, untreated lemon directly from a tree overlooking the Mediterranean Sea releases a rush of sweet, citrusy aromas that intoxicate the brain. Left to ripen on the tree, the lemon actually becomes sweeter, so much so that some Italians love to eat them plain with just a pinch of salt.

Although originally from Asia, the lemon tree has been cultivated in Italy since as early as Ancient Roman times. They were grown along the coastline as a prime crop, thanks to their high levels of vitamin C which were important in preventing scurvy among sailors. Today lemons are as “Italian” as olives, espresso, and handmade ceramics. The mild, sunny Mediterranean weather – especially in Sicily and along the Amalfi Coast – is the ideal climate for the tree.

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Trinacria, The Three-Legged Symbol of Sicily

A handmade Sicilian wall plate featuring a Trinacria, the three-legged symbol of Sicily. Handmade in Caltagirone, Italy

The Trinacria, also known as Triskelion, is the familiar three-legged symbol of Sicily.

Everywhere you go in Sicily, you will see a Trinacria, the symbol of our beautiful island. And if you are tempted to bring one home, you’ll have plenty of choices, from sophisticated ceramic Trinacria wall plates from Caltagirone to inexpensive fridge magnets. Of course, we do hope that you’ll go for one of the stunning Sicilian pottery pieces handmade by local artists and artisans, such as Ghenos or Sofia.

Regardless of your choice, you may want to learn about the origin of the Trinacria and impress your fellow travelers with some captivating anecdotes about the origins of Sicily and its three-legged symbol.

Let’s explore the island’s myths and legends, one by one.

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The Difference among Pottery, Ceramics and Majolica, with Special Regard to Italian Ceramics

Italian ceramics, or Italian pottery, have been in my life for quite a long time: I collect them, I read about them, I sell them.Sicilian Head Planter Vase by Ceramiche Sofia, a most skilled pottery maker from Caltagirone

In Italian, when I say ceramica, everybody understands what I mean. On the contrary, when I talk with one of my American friends, I’m always uncertain: should I say Italian pottery, Italian ceramics or Italian majolica?

In order to do away with any doubt, I did some research. I did learn quite a lot on the subject, and I would love to share my findings with you.

Let’s start with technicalities.

Here is a short review of the definition of the words Ceramics, Pottery and Majolica.

Once we know exactly what we are talking about, we will define what they really mean to people.

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St. Valentine’s Day: la Festa degli Innamorati

How many aspects of your daily life can be traced back to Italy? We all know the obvious ones, like pasta, pizza, espresso, and beautiful handmade ceramics. But many modern-day traditions and holidays also have Italian origins, just like upcoming St. Valentine’s Day.

Valentine, an Italian saint

It is all thanks to a saint named Valentino (although there was likely more than just one) whose life contributed to this celebration of love in February.

Red Sicilian Moorish Heads by Ceramiche Sofia

Some accounts talk of a Roman priest and physician, or perhaps he was a bishop born in a place that today is Terni, Umbria. Valentino secretly protected couples and married them, in defiance against orders from Emperor Claudius the Cruel who had banned marriages in hopes of strengthening his army.

It didn’t end well for poor Valentino; he was jailed and then beheaded on February 14 around the year 270 CE. In 496 CE, Pope Gelasius declared that this date be celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day.

How do I love thee

Nowadays, especially in America, St. Valentine’s Day has become a day to celebrate all the people in your life whom you love. Charming heart candies, cute stuffed animals, and sweet little cards are given to everyone from classmates to co-workers. But in Italy, this day is strictly reserved for innamorati – lovers.

Lovers - Italian ceramic wall hanging by Francesca Niccacci, Deruta

Perhaps this has to do with the meaning of the word love in English versus Italian? In English, love encapsulates the passion and affection you have for another person, whether it be a spouse, parent, child, friend, or even pet!

However, in Italian, there are two verbs that offer a distinction between different forms of love! Voler bene is used for those you care about, like friends and family, while amare is strictly used for romantic love. And the day of San Valentino in Italy is also called la festa degli innamorati – the holiday of lovers.

How Italians celebrate St. Valentine’s Day

Ars et Amor - Italian ceramic wall plate by Francesca Niccacci, Deruta

So then, how do Italians celebrate this romantic holiday? In the northern city of Verona, most well-known for its fateful lovers Romeo and Juliet, February 14 is a part of week-long events and decorations inviting couples to come take in the amorous atmosphere.

But most couples will settle for a romantic dinner in a local ristorante and also give their special someone a heartfelt gift that expresses their passion.

And for that, the best bet is to go with something that represents amore: a unique piece of quality Italian craftsmanship that will last the test of time.

St. Valentine’s Day Italian gifts

Head over to our special page of Italian Ceramics for Romantic Souls, with a wide assortment of beautiful gifts to choose from, where you are sure to find the perfect fit for your special someone no matter their style or taste. A stunning, handcrafted token of love from thatsArte – that’s Amore!

Italian ceramics from the British Museum

I went back to the British Museum just a few days before it closed due to the epidemics.

It was not as busy as it used to be before the virus changed the limits of personal space. This was not unpleasant, though.

I could take it slowly and enjoy my favorite pieces of Italian pottery, time-traveling back to the Renaissance.

The collection of Italian ceramics hosted by the British Museum is of the utmost importance: most of the pieces date back to the golden age of Italian majolica, the 16th and 17th century, and they come from different regions, offering a rare perspective on the differences in pictorial styles, shapes, and glazes.

I did not take pictures, but I’m copying below a blog post from 2015, with some highlights from the collection.

…. November 2015

A few pictures from my last visit to the British Museum, where a significant collection of Italian ceramics is hosted.

The display is quite unattractive and, in my opinion, not very well organized, but the quality of the pieces is really good and definitely worth a visit.

I took some pictures with my phone – not good quality, but enough to whet your appetite.

Two plates or bowls made in Deruta by Nicola di Pietro Francioli in 1515-1530 2015-10-28 16.19.11-1

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Art Deco Pottery, the Taste of an Epoch

Feb. 18th – Oct 1st 2017

The Art Deco style developed internationally between the 1920s and 1930s, dominating the architecture and the decorative arts.
It was an eclectic, rich and opulent style, glamorous but at the same time elegant and above all ‘modern’. No wonder then that Art Deco was particularly favored by the modern middle class and lent its esthetical features to new theatres, ocean liners, railway stations, cinema interiors and private houses.

Just like Art Nouveau and Futurism, Art Deco influenced Italian interior and industrial design, fashion design, the graphic arts and, last but not least, Italian pottery, impacting both shapes, materials and decoration. It placed the myth of the machine at its center, replacing symmetries with geometries, and finally making the way for the industrial production.

Francesco Nonni ceramic figurine - Italy

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Tile floors that go down in history

Ceramic tiles have been used for centuries in the Mediterranean countries because they provided a durable floor surface and added color to both public and domestic settings.
Sometimes the tile floor bore the arms of the family who owned the residence or, having funded it, wanted to impress the future generations with their generosity.

Today, we draw inspiration from the elaborate designs of the past to create our own tile floors, using the same techniques that have made the history of these beautiful works of art.

Credits Victoria and Albert Museum - From the tile floor of the Church of San Francesco in Forlì, Italy

Ghenos tile floors and panels

Credits: Espressioni della Maiolica, Salerno
by Tiziana Manzetti

Seriously handmade – ND Dolfi, Tuscany

It does not matter that you like its style, really. What you cannot help is admiring their stunning craftsmanship and wishing to touch it.

Yes, ND Dolfi’s pottery never goes unnoticed. It is a feast for the senses and a superb example of what traditional techniques, experience, passion and eyes wide open on the world can do.

The Dolfi family has been making pottery since 1941. Silvano Dolfi, father of Natalia and Daria, founded his own company in 1994. He did not take long to build a fine International reputation for himself as an artist and for his company.

His daughters have inherited his talents. Together, now that he is no longer with us, they design and hand craft large vases, bowls, tiles, lamps and gorgeous home décor accents. A collection that year after year gets richer and richer of vibrant glazes, bold color combinations and new textures.


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