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In many parts of Italy are villages where for hundreds of years jars, plates and bowls have been made for the people of the countryside, as well as finer wares for the local nobility. Each of these small pieces developed its own forms of clayware and its individual modes of decoration. Today craftsmen in villages of Southern Italy or in mountain hamlets in the north are still close to the traditions of the Renaissance period, when every bit of handiwork was a thing of beauty. Shapes of vases and jars have come down to them from their fathers and grandfathers, who themselves made the same type of pottery and decorated it in the same bright colors and beautiful designs as did their ancestors in the first half of the sixteenth century, when the great pottery of Italy was made.
It is these places, many of them off the usual lines of tourist travel, that the agents of American importers search out. The different types of local Italian pottery all have their distinguishing names, and the American public is becoming familiar with wares formerly known only to experts.
There is the majolica ware of Deruta, famous since 1300, when the tiles for the famous Franciscan Church at Assisi were made. With 600 years of designs to draw upon, we of today are able to select the best and thus become "heirs of the ages" in more than a rhetorical sense. From out of the past come primitive designs of birds and animals or the highly developed designs of the Renaissance, all enveloped in the lustrous glaze for which Deruta ware is noted.
Types of Bassano ware, on the other hand, reflect much of the precision of design of the eighteenth century, when soft colors were in fashion. Some, indeed, have the robustness of color characteristic of Latin wares, but much of this pottery suggests less of the Italian and more of the quieter French style in its pastel colors and delicate forms. Garlanded urns, fan-shaped flower holders, vases with subtly curved handles, all suggest the elegant and highly sophisticated interiors of the society of which Paris in the eighteenth century was the centre.
Another type of ware recovered from the past for Western use was originally made on the Island of Capri and is now produced near Naples. Some of this pottery has a gray background that allows the colors of the decorations to disclose themselves to their best advantage. Among these are two-handled jugs in solid color, which, though primitive in form, have a simple beauty. A form of decoration used on this pottery consists of many parallel lines of different hues which encircle the outer surface of vase or bowl or the inner surface of a huge platter.
Again, there is the Castelli pottery from the Province of Abruzzo, which has only recently reached America, although the craftsmen in that district have been making pottery since the fifteenth century. Authentic ancient pieces bring large sums when they are put up for sale, but the person who desires to possess beauty without age will find in these modern-made wares much of the charm of the old pieces.
The range of Italian pottery designs reveals unexpected and strange suggestions, such as Saracenic, Spanish and Persian. This wide variety of effect makes it possible to find some piece of Italian pottery to fit into almost any interior.
Besides making a spot of brilliant color to a room, many pieces of Italian pottery lend themselves to more obviously utilitarian purpose. One may have a lamp base constructed from the tall and slender form of a chemist's jar, or select a round-bellied vase rich with decoration. Some of the smaller vases make useful holders for flowers, and many forms may be used on dining tables or tea tables where their virile beauty does not clash with our colder Northern design. Sun porches of country houses, with their abundance of light, bring out all the color of an Italian jar, while a Gubbio vase is just the thing for a foyer of a city apartment that needs a bright touch.