Stunning colors, ornate designs, beautiful craftsmanship . . . if you’re looking for genuine hand-painted Italian ceramics, go right to the source. In these 6 Italian cities, you can see the workshops and laboratories where artisans practice their craft, and buy ceramics directly from them.
Production of hand-painted ceramics in Italy is still regional, and there are specific cities where knowledge and tradition have been passed down from generation to generation. The cities listed here are famous for their maiolica, the Italian name for tin-glazed earthenware that flourished during the Renaissance. Certain cities have a unique style or a famous local motif.
Whether you’re interested in Italian dinnerware, vases, jars, decorative plates, bowls, or even ceramic donkeys and pine cones, we’ve got you covered. We’ve also included audio of how to pronounce the cities on the list so that you can say them with confidence.
Table of Contents
MAP OF WHERE TO BUY HAND-PAINTED ITALIAN CERAMICS
Deruta is mainland Italy’s best-known destination for hand-painted ceramics. Named one of “Italy’s most beautiful villages,” it sits on a hilltop near Perugia, Umbria on the Tiber River.
Ceramic production in Deruta dates back to the 1200s, and many innovations led to the ceramics’ prominence, such as its brilliant gold color. Deruta reached its peak in the first half of the 1500s. Today the streets of the town are lined with ceramic shops and studios.
Deruta ceramics are known for quite a few beautiful styles, like deep blue Antico Deruta (old, or ancient Deruta); and Ricco Deruta (rich Deruta), with ornate symmetrical calligraphic patterns. You will also find Raffaelesco styles, characterized by a dragon breathing gentle winds; and petal back designs.
Deruta boasts a regional ceramics museum, the Museo Regionale della Ceramica di Deruta. With over 6000 works on display, it is Italy’s oldest museum devoted to ceramics. Deruta isn’t the only city in Umbria with an important ceramic tradition. Gualdo Tadino, Gubbio, and Orvieto are also worth visiting if you love hand-painted ceramics.
Listen to how to pronounce Deruta, Umbria:
Faenza is another important center for Italian ceramics, located about a 45-minute drive southwest of Ravenna (home of breathtaking mosaics and a mosaic museum that kids love), and about 56 km southeast of Bologna. Ceramics are not only part of the Faenza’s history, they are an important piece of its identity.
In fact, faience, which has come to be a general term for tin-glazed earthenware, is the French word for Faenza. Production in the city dates back to the Middle Ages, and as artisans’ techniques became more refined, Faenza became a major center for maiolica in the 1500s.
Today you can visit local workshops and shops where artisans still riff on famous styles from Faenza’s heyday, such as le belle donne (beautiful ladies), plates with portraits of young women given as wedding gifts during the Renaissance; and stile istoriato (illustrated style), depicting narrative scenes from religious stories or mythology; among others.
Faenza isn’t part of the usual Italy tourist circuit and can be a refreshing destination off the beaten track. It’s worth timing your trip to Faenza so you’re there during Argillà, the International Ceramics Festival and Market-Fair, held biannually over a long weekend in September.
Faenza is also famous for its prestigious Faenza Prize, one of the most important international contemporary ceramics competitions; and of course the International Museum of Ceramics, with a catalog of 60,000 works spanning 6000 years.
Listen to how to pronounce Faenza, Emilia-Romagna:
VIETRI SUL MARE on the COSTIERA AMALFITANA, CAMPANIA
A village on the spectacular Amalfi Coast just southeast of Salerno, Vietri sul Mare is brimming with hand-painted ceramics. Not only are the charming little streets filled with artisanal shops, but the dome of the San Giovanni Battista cathedral itself is also adorned with glistening yellow, green, and blue tiles.
Vietri is famous for its riggiole tiles (I have some with ornate patterns in my bathroom), which have been produced there as far back as the 1300s. Production expanded to include other household items like plates, bowls and jars. In the 1500s, decorations became more embellished, and the quality of the ceramics in Vietri took a big leap. In the 1920s, internationally known artisans came to work and live in Vietri, and helped it become a world capital of hand-painted ceramics.
Watch for the famous Vietri ciucarelli (donkeys) and galletti (roosters). Die-hard ceramic aficionados should visit the province’s small ceramics museum, the little-publicized Museo Provinciale della Ceramica, housed in the Villa Guariglia in nearby Raito.
Vietri has become synonymous with ceramics, so much so that the American dinnerware company Vietri is named after it. Ravello and other towns along the Amalfi Coast also are great places for buying hand-painted ceramics. Just keep in mind that because of the area’s incredible beauty and appeal, the small villages are generally overrun in the summer: it’s best to visit off-season.
Listen to how to pronounce Vietri sul Mare, Costiera Amalfitana, Campania:
Will you be heading to Puglia, the southern region that’s the “heel” of Italy’s boot shape? Then don’t miss the hilltop town of Grottaglie, near Taranto, whose name comes from the area’s grotte, or caves.
In fact, Grottaglie’s old-time ceramics workshops are in grottoes carved into the land. Approximately 50 artisans are working in the Quartiere delle Ceramiche (ceramics quarter), where there are still centuries-old kilns, and plenty of shops for buying local pieces. Ceramics have been made in the town at least since the 13th century, using the excellent local clay.
Special local pieces include the pumo, which looks like a flower bud or a cardoon; and the ciarla, an urn with a top and large handles. Don’t miss Grottaglie’s Museo delle Ceramiche (ceramics museum), housed in the town’s spectacular castle near the ceramics quarter, Castello Episcopio.
Listen to how to pronounce Grottaglie, Puglia:
MONTELUPO FIORENTINO, TOSCANA
Along the Arno and Pesa rivers just west of Florence sits Montelupo Fiorentino, Tuscany’s ceramic capital. Natural clay deposits in the river bed and the proximity to Florence helped Montelupo become a major center for hand painted ceramics.
Montelupo’s heyday was between 1400 and 1530, when the city’s ceramics were highly esteemed. Important Florentine families like the Medicis and Strozzis commissioned local pieces, and Montelupo ceramics not only supplied Florence, they were distributed throughout the Mediterranean, and up the Atlantic coast of Europe as well. After a slow decline, Montelupo’s production ramped up again in the 1900s.
To learn more about the history of Montelupo Fiorentino’s hand-painted ceramics, visit the important ceramics museum (it is a popular school trip for schools in the area, my children really enjoyed it). Montelupo also hosts a summer ceramics festival, and a ceramics school.
There are plenty of wonderful places to buy hand-painted ceramics in Montelupo and towns nearby. Here is a list of workshops and shops.
Listen to how to pronounce Montelupo Fiorentino, Toscana:
Caltagirone is an inland city in southern Sicily, about an hour’s drive southwest of Catania. Over millennia, the Phoenicians, Greeks and Arabs all influenced the production of ceramics in Sicily. The ceramics reflect the incredible history and spirit of this sunny, colorful and vibrant island.
Don’t miss the Caltagirone Ceramic Museum, which covers almost thousands of years of ceramics history. Caltagirone’s peak was in the 16- and 1700s, and today’s artisans still use the popular styles from the past. In the heart of town is the incredible Scala di Santa Maria del Monte, a 142-step staircase from the 1606 exquisitely decorated with tiles by local artisans. In the surrounding streets you can explore the dizzying bounty of ceramic shops.
In Caltagirone, you’ll see plenty of heads. There are jars in the shape of kings’ and queens’ heads, and so-called teste di moro (Moors’ heads). There are also ceramic pine cones, which symbolize good luck and prosperity. You’ll notice that generally the ceramic colors are bright and the patterns are bold. After all, this is Sicily.
Listen to how to pronounce Caltagirone, Sicilia: