Italian Lustre Glazes: Renaissance and Revival

In the early 1500s, potters at Deruta and Gubbio figured out the old Islamic technique of metallic over-glazing. They started with a completed, glazed piece. They painted on it with a “salt” (compound) of copper, silver, or gold; re-fired it under stringent conditions, and polished it. If everything went right, the remaining metal would be reflective or even iridescent.

Italy, Deruta (Umbria). Dish, c. 1520-25, earthenware with lustre glaze, 40 cm (Legion of Honor, Gift of Jakob Goldschmidt; museum photo)

Italy, Deruta (Umbria). Detail of the Deruta dish, showing slight iridescence (SFCC photo)

Deruta potters specialized in a reflective yellow. Gubbio potters also had a red lustre (or luster) that, in the best firings, turned strongly iridescent. As well as enhancing their own pottery, Gubbio workshops brought in elaborately painted work from Urbino and elsewhere for lustre glazing. The fashion lasted about 60 years. Then, imports of Chinese porcelain moved elite taste to white tin-glaze with restrained painting and no lustre.

Italy, Gubbio, workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, center attributed to Francesco Xanto Avelli da Rovigo, border to Francesco Urbini. Dish, 1525, lustre-glazed earthenware (Wallace Collection, London; SFCC photo)

Detai of the Wallace Collection dish (SFCC photo)

About 1850, two factors came together to spark a recreation of the old techniques. One was the nationalist, historical pride that led to the unification of Italy. The other was the reaction against industrial technology known to English-speakers as the Arts and Crafts Movement. For a generation, Italian potters used lustre glazes to recreate historical styles.

Italy, Florence, Cantagalli. Bowl in Deruta style, c. 1885-95, earthenware with lustre glaze 26.8 cm (SFCC member collection)

Italy, Alfredo Santarelli (Gualdo Tadino). Dish copied from the Wallace Collection example, c. 1900 (Museo international delle ceramiche, Faenza; SFCC photo)

Detail of the dish by Alfredo Santarelli (SFCC photo)

In the 1890s, progressive studios made a radical shift into the early-modernist style that Italians call “Liberty,” from the London store.

Italy, Galileo Chini, 1873-1956 (Florence). Vase, c. 1900, lustre-glazed earthenware (Museo internazionale delle ceramiche, Faenza; SFCC photo)

Detail of the vase by Galileo Chini (SFCC photo)

Italy, Florentia Ars (Florence). Vase, c. 1900-02, lustre-glazed earthenware (Museo internazionale delle ceramiche, Faenza; SFCC photo)

The SFCC members’ private blog has two posts on lustre glazes, one before and one since the Industrial Revolution.  They include 10 more of our own photos taken in museums in Spain, Italy, England, France, Germany, and the USA.  For additional reading, see Alan Caiger-Smith, Lustre Pottery: Technique, Tradition and Innovation in Islam and the Western World, various editions.