The first inhabitants of the area have certainly, like all ancient peoples, manipulated clay and created the first rudimentary objects out of it. These objects were only dried in the sun and it was necessary to wait for the discovery of firing to obtain real pottery. Over the course of the millennia, the ceramic art has been perfected: using different techniques and materials, and from ceramics for domestic purposes we would then see ceramics that timidly approach art. In the beginning it was only a few small ornamental patterns or some lettering in the language used. Then the shapes were improved, colour was applied and lastly, the ceramics had actual pictorial decoration, all of it carried out by studying and experimenting a variety of different techniques.
The National Museum Atestino preserves the admirable and vast documentation of the ceramics of the so-called “Atestini periods”. From there it then passes to the Roman era, where the ceramic tradition is flourishing: vases, amphorae and lamps carry the impression of the “signatures” of the designer or of the manufacturers. After the Roman era there was a period of stasis, without many traces in the world of ceramics. Toward the years 1200-1300 ceramics experiences a new impulse due to the new methods: “graffita” ceramics, engobed ceramics and glass, and so forth. For the period that goes from 1300 to 1600, in acts of notaries and in the parish registers, we see “scudelari” “bocalari” “pignatari”, all names indicating potters, who were born and who lived in Este between 1500 and 1600. Thus we come to the eighteenth century: porcelain was also discovered in Europe, which had dominated in the Far East. Ceramics however, received a new impulse in Este: among the masters of the ceramics of the 1700s, quite renowned was Girolamo Franchini. Este also produced majolica and in particular there was a peculiar black kind (“roba nera lustra”), characterised by a lower manufacturing cost and a lower sales price than that of white earthenware.
The ceramics of Este currently has made tradition its battle horse: this pottery in fact derives its inspiration from the historical production of Este, reinterpreting it sometimes and other times reproposing it in a modern key.
The great quality of the manufactured items of Este is known and appreciated in Italy and throughout the world: companies in fact work together with major design brands and international fashion labels, as well as famous artists, who choose the pottery of Este for the production of precious objects in an increasingly competitive market. Este maintains a great number of original moulds that were used (and still are used today) for the manufacture of antique objects. The moulds are currently distributed in the various factories of Este, which can be considered the true heirs of Estense manufacturing.
There are three ways to work the materials for ceramics: at the potter’s wheel, by slip casting, filling the moulds with liquid clay (this technique is used for large objects), or by using presses.
Once it has been formed, the manufactured article is placed in a kiln where it becomes “biscuit”. At the end of the firing, it is removed from the kiln and is ready to be decorated. After decorating the article it will be subjected to a second firing, while a third firing is intended only for those objects that have decorations in gold or in a bright red colour.
Among the typical subjects of the decorations that are characteristic of the ceramics of Este, the fruit and vegetable decoration stands out as the most classic tradition. All the phases of the processing and of the decorations are performed by hand and only natural colours or oxides are used. Once decorated, the object is placed in a tank containing glass powder; with this method, known with the name of “crystalline”, the decoration appears shiny and is indelibly attached.