Faenza, the ceramics capital you probably didn’t know about.

If you were to see my house, you’d know that I am the opposite of a minimalist. I love color, and art and beautiful things. I especially find ceramics alluring and have been enjoying collecting them from Italy and Poland since we’ve lived in Europe.

A main street in Faenza.

I was excited to be able to buy more ceramics when we moved to Italy, but it seems that the ceramics I enjoy are more of a southern Italy thing, versus something I’ve been able to find in the north where we live. But I was determined to find something sooner rather than later. I had begonias that need to be potted, after all. With some research I was able to learn of Faenza which is not necessarily in the North of Italy, but it was within driving distance for a weekend sojourn. So once we got sorted here at the apartment and things started to resemble ”normal” life, we decided to take a weekend away. We drove to Bologna and stayed there and then the next morning got up and meandered our way another hour south to the tiny village of Faenza. (And I really mean meander as there was an accident on the autostrade so we took tiny back roads through a ton of little villages).

It’s likely you haven’t heard of this town. Unless, you’re very into ceramics. But Faenza has become synonymous with ceramics and the term for its particular type of ceramics is, in French, faïence and in English, faience, a literal translation of the town’s name. In Italian, the type of ceramics Faenza is known for is called majolica, a tin-glazed process of dipping, drying, painting and firing ceramics.

There are about nine basic designs on ceramics in the region. (You can see many of them here.) These are the Pavona, Palmetta, Berettino, Compendiario, Garofano, Fogli di Vite, Ghiana, Raffaellesca and Melograno. But there are others that are seen less often as well, including modern pieces by contemporary artists. I fell in love with the Pavona and Palmetta and these are the ones we chose to buy (see a few of our pieces below). The pavona is a stunning design of eastern origin that found its way to Faenza in the 1490s. It reflects the idea of a peacock feather with a myriad of colors usually ranging from brown to green to yellow to orange or red. Though sometimes, it’s more of a rainbow effect. The palmetta design came from the Persian empire in the 1480s. It includes blue, pinecone shaped flowers, and small swirls to give the idea that it’s an embroidered piece of fabric.

Two of the other patterns we most often saw were the Garofano, a 19th century design that included blues orange and greens. To me it felt very Asian in origin. The other most popular design we saw was the Melograno, a design dating to the 900s! Dark blue and gold swirls cover white porcelain and often include animals and fruit (melograno means pomegranate in Italian). The shapes of these animals reflect classical paintings. I think when we return to Faenza, I’ll definitely get one of these pieces.

We arrived in Faenza about 1130 am and were quickly reminded that it was almost siesta time. In Milan and other big cities, siesta isn’t as popular as it is in the rest of the country. In tiny towns like Faenza, EVERYTHING, and I mean everything (except like McDonalds) closes down from about 1230-1500. So we got one hour of shopping in at some ceramics shops before we had to go have lunch at McDonalds and watch Netflix in the car because really… there was nothing else to do and it was way too hot to just walk around outside. We waited out the siesta because there were two larger shops on the outskirts of town that we hadn’t reached before siesta started and I really wanted to see them. The most important one to me was La Vecchia Faenza and it was so worth the wait. La Vecchia Faenza was amazing. While most other shops we saw that day were small and took us only a few minutes to browse, La Vecchia Faenza was huge. With floor to ceiling painted plates on one wall and at least ten-foot tall shelves in the rest of the room. All covered with amazing ceramics of varying designs.

La Vecchia Faenza was started by Gino Suzzi in the late 1960s with Laura Silvagni as a decorator. In the early 2000s Gino retired and Laura became owner of the business. She still paints today. It was her daughter that we met when we ventured into La Vecchia Faenza on that sweltering summer afternoon. She was so very pleasant, telling us the history of their store and helping us choose our pieces. After we made our selections and discussed our love of ceramics, we got to see a very special display not always open to the public.

In 1981 Laura met Giovanni Pretolani, a retired ceramicist who was in his late 70s. He wanted to paint a little each afternoon and felt Laura was the perfect student. They ended up forming a bond and creating some phenomenal pieces of art for over 20 years. Giovanni painted until he was 99 years old and only two days before his death. I was absolutely in awe of the massive plates with Laura and Giovanni’s art on it that Laura’s daughter showed us. We felt very humbled to be given this opportunity. I can’t wait to return to Faenza, solely for this shop and to visit Laura’s other location in the city.

Do you know of any places where they sell amazing ceramics? I’m always open to suggestions on where to go for my newest pieces! Comment below!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Pree says:

    Wow these designs are gorgeous! This sounds like a delightful day trip that would probabaly be even more so in cooler weather


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