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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Custom Made Show-Stopping Ceramic Floor

Sometimes, the most show-stopping design element in a room is beneath your feet.

Our Client was looking for a custom-made floor for his study. He was building to home to go and spend time in after his retirement, surrounded by his most prized possessions.

His Italian dream floor would have to be hand-painted in golden and green hues, with the most intricate elements of the pattern set along the perimeter of the room, leaving the centerstage to a large antique desk. His source of inspiration was Rosa Azul, a Sicilian tile panel hand-painted by Ghenos.

Italian tile panel or side tabletop Rosa Azul hand-painted by Ghenos in Messina, Sicily

We discussed the project with Ghenos and presented the Client with a preliminary sketch.

Custom made flooring base on the Italian hand-painted panel Rosa Azul from Sicily- sketch
Custom made flooring base on the Italian hand-painted panel Rosa Azul from Sicily - sketch detail

The Client absolutely fell in love with the design and the artisan set to work. here is a glimpse at the unfired tiles.

Italian hand-painted ceramic flooring before the final firing - 1
Italian hand-painted ceramic flooring before the final firing - 2

The production took 3 full months, but the wait was worth it!
Enjoy a few details of the final flooring.

Italian hand-painted ceramic flooring after the final firing - 1
Italian hand-painted ceramic flooring after the final firing - 2

Giacomo Alessi – 50 Ceramic Sculptures in London

Sept. 28 – Oct. 11, 2001
London, UK

Giacomo Alessi’s work celebrates the glorious past of Sicilian ceramics while going for its renewal.
A deep understanding of Caltagirone’s millennial tradition of pottery making combined with a profound love for the complex and fascinating art of creating a meaningful something out of wet clay is the secret of Alessi’s sculptures.

Along with his handcrafted production – famous throughout the world – Giacomo Alessi has also been making his own “private” works. He takes pride, rightful pride, in showing his collection to a few privileged friends. But art cannot be concealed or silenced… his visitors spread the news and Giacomo has rapidly won international recognition.

Manuela and I met Giacomo Alessi in Caltagirone in 2007. We were starting our fine Italian ceramics web store and Giacomo was probably the very first artist we invited to join our project. A hesitant “let’s try…” was enough for us to fly to Sicily and visit him in his workshop. Continue reading

Meeting Italian Ceramic Artists: Toti Taormina

A hot morning in Sicily. The road ran along one of the most fascinating beaches of the island, Baia Santa Margherita. A colorful signpost convinced me to turn into a narrow dirt road that seemed to point straight to a steep red mountain facing the Mediterranean Sea. After a while I saw on my right a brick hut with a shadowy porch: Toti Taormina’s studio lost in the middle of the fragrance and the colors of the Sicilian landscape.

There were people crowding the tiny wood-paneled “showroom”, where ceramics stood all over the place: on the floor, on the shelves, on coffee tables, hanging from the walls and the doors, inside and outside. In the middle of everything Toti himself, chatting with everybody at the same time. Continue reading