Last week a new friend, Anne, wrote a comment in our blog requesting some info on Cantagalli.
I found the post very intriguing for a number of reasons.
First of all, I wondered why Cantagalli is so popular in UK and US, while he never reached the same star status here in Italy.
Secondly, I was puzzled by the quantity of ceramic works marked Cantagalli that are available over the Internet.
Lastly, it made me want to investigate on Cantagalli’s version of Della Robbia’s terracottas.
I made some research and I noticed that there is not much info handy on the subject on the web… So I went through my books and art magazines and I found some interesting facts.
That gave me the idea to reply to Anne’s question with an article that can be useful to collector’s who love the magic cockerel but do not know much about his father: Ulisse Cantagalli.
About Ulisse Cantagalli
Ulisse Cantagalli was a superb artist and an even better businessman.
Not much of him is known before 1878 when he took over the family factory in Florence and started to produce highly decorative Italian ceramics in the Renaissance style. At the time the taste for this kind of pottery was a very hot trend in the English speaking countries.
He devoted his artistic energy to the understanding of the techniques and the designs of the old masters from Gubbio, Deruta, Urbino and other important ceramic centers.
His ability to master the ruby and golden luster techniques of Mastro Giorgio Andreoli brought the factory to fame, particularly in Britain.
The passion for Italian pottery and its role in the success of Cantagalli’s factory is well described in a delicious article published in the New York Times in 1879, titled “The Making of Majolica: A Florence Pottery Factory”.
The event that more than any other contributed to the International success of Cantagalli was his friendship with William de Morgan, Britain’s most talented and most admired pottery and tile designer of his days.
He introduced him to influential collectors in England and US and encouraged him to participate to International exhibitions. In a short time, Cantagalli works were highly regarded in English speaking countries, where they still are popular Collector’s items.
Cantagalli died in 1901.
His wife and daughter continued to operate the factory in Florence.
In 1934 they sold it together with the Cantagalli’s trademark to Amerigo Menegatti, former artistic director of the factory.
The economic turmoil following World War II forced Menegatti to a step change in production. He began to offer more utilitarian items, which still bore the famous cockerel that English speaking collectors find so appealing.
The Cantagalli factory closed in 1985.
The production of Cantagalli ware is now over, although the Menegatti family still owns the trademark.
Cantagalli pottery as Collector’s items
Ulisse Cantagalli was an outstanding ceramicist, whose original works are held by influential collectors and renowned Museums – to name but a few the Bargello in Florence, the Museo Stibbert also in Florence, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
The quality of the pottery being produced by the Cantagalli-Maioliche after the master’s death remained high thanks to the fine artists that the factory attracted like a magnet – Carlo Guerrini was among them – and the artists who had been working with Ulisse for a long time. The “Golden Era” however ended in 1936 when Guerrini left the factory.
It’s hard to attribute a specific Collector’s value to the pottery made after 1936. It still is good handmade pottery, but certainly, its value cannot be judged based on the famous cockerel that nicely decorates the bottom.
Cantagalli pottery marks
Cantagalli has always marked his works with the well-known cockerel. As far as I know, nothing else was added to the mark. To know more about the subject, you may want to post a query in Walter Del Pellegrino Forum. He is a real expert of Italian pottery marks.
Della Robbia style terracottas
Cantagalli was fascinated by the Italian pottery made during the Renaissance. He had a natural talent and it was easy for him to revive the old techniques. He was also a very intuitive businessman and he knew that Renaissance style pottery was very popular.
Even more so the bas-reliefs of blue and white glazed terracotta with religious characters in the style of Della Robbia.
Cantagalli and his potters – Romeo Pazzini (1852-1942) is the most relevant one – studied and reinterpreted the works by Luca, Andrea e Giovanni Della Robbia to adjust them to the contemporary artistic taste.
The glazed terracottas with the portrait of the Holy Mary molded by Andrea Della Robbia were their main source of inspiration, both for the subject and for the technique.
Many other pottery factories – not only in Tuscany – devoted their effort to revive the artistic heritage of Della Robbia. The most relevant ones were: Ginori Manifattura di Doccia, Ferniani in Faenza, Chini in Borgo San Lorenzo and Bondi in Signa.