It is no easy undertaking to discuss the production of Deruta, attempting to summarize the essential connotations which distinguish it during that which is considered to be its most splendid age in terms of artistic activity, without diminishing its excellence, given the variety, richness and diversification of production which characterize its development during the 16th century. Without dwelling on specific questions relating to iconographic sources, social destination of the artifacts, attributions or similarities with other productions, a general outline will follow of the most salient features of the Deruta types which were to have such a profound influence on the production of the twentieth century.
Petal Back As mentioned above, the Petal Back Group, whose first pieces appear to date back to the last quarter of the 15th century, signals the arrival of a new era for the ceramic art in Deruta. We are at the dawn of that which was to be one of the Umbrian town’s most successful periods, distinguishing itself with a production of such quality that it was acknowledged and appreciated even outside the national context.
Despite the persistence of the Gothic elements which characterize the first phase of the production, the Petal Back Group can be considered as a fully Renaissance type. Its name alludes to the typical decoration which often ornaments the reverse side of the open shapes and consists of large ovoid petals, striated crosswise in blue and orange, alternating with doffed triangular infill elements, sometimes with asterisks in-between. The decorations are various and diversified: one of the most common patterns consists of concentric bands around a central subject. These bands can be made up of various geometric elements, rope-like decorations and “fish-bone” motifs, or of festoons in which recur rigid leaves similar to laurel, inflorescences, knots and, more generally; all the motifs which were later to be elaborated in the course of the 16th century both in the lustreware and in the polychrome production.
The shapes include display plates, bowls, saucers, ewer basins, albarellos, two-handled vases and spouted jars. Lustre It was at the end of the 15th century that the Deruta ceramists began to apply the Lustre which was to become the pride of Deruta majolica. Lustre has the appearance of a gold, silver or red metallic patina, and was applied to majolica which had already been fired and painted in a third firing at a fairly low heat (500-620 degrees) in a reducing atmosphere. Lustre is one of the most refined decorative techniques used on Islamic ceramics. It consists of a type of decoration obtained on an object which has already been fired and involves the application of a very fine film of metallic particles which, after reduction in the fire, produces effects of various colors, according to the type of metal used. The variety of the iridescent phenomena depends on the quality of the salts and oxides used: yellow Lustre is obtained from silver salts and oxide; copper red Lustre from copper salts; yellow-gold or reddish yellow Lustre from combinations of silver and copper compounds.
To achieve the iridescent effects, a combination of natural resins with the metals themselves is necessary. Of Arabic tradition, but imported by Spain, presumably at the end of the 15th century; this technique was widely used in Deruta, the Italian center from which the first known examples originate. The pink-toned lustre plaque depicting Saint Sebastian preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is in fact dated 1501, and a small jug with the emblem of the moor’s head, housed in the British Museum, dates back to the following year. The technical- decorative quality of these two pieces is so refined as to suggest a practice in the use of Lustre already consolidated over some years.
The Deruta lustreware, (apart from these first Examples) has an intense golden hue, generally combined with blue to recreate the typical two-color scheme of the Spanish products, thus distinguishing it from other productions in full polychrome. There is a great variety of lustreware types: ewer basins, saucers and small bowls with “belle donne”, coats of arms, letters and images of saints. Around the central subject develop radial decorations consisting of the “dog-tooth” motif, small arches, curved leaves and inflorescences created by overlapping ovals, probably a stylization of the carnation. Peacock feather eye decorations and arabesques made up of curved leaves interspersed with small daisies are also common.
However the best-known lustreware is represented by the ornamental “display plates”, whose wide border often decorated with wreaths, small arches and compartmentalized motifs, frames a central subject in which lavishly-depicted female busts now appear of a type which can be traced back to models by Perugino and Pinturicchio’s, or cartouches bearing proverbs, moral maxims and exhortations, images of saints, knights, episodes in the life of Christ, mythological scenes, male busts, allegories and coats of arms. Among the latte~ the most frequently found are those of the Orsini, the Ranieri and the Baglioni, old Perugian families. Aesop’s fables are also depicted, whilst bawdy and humorous subjects are less common.