The history of ceramic production in Tuscany has a long tradition.
Among the earliest testimonies, it is necessary to remember, for the Etruscan period, the heavy pottery, the production of the VI-V century BC. typical of Chiusi, characterized by thick walls decorated with plastic motifs and the classic dark-gray color obtained by baking the vessels in a reducing atmosphere (poor in oxygen); for the Roman period, one can not forget the sealed aretine that, between the first century BC, and I century BC, became the most popular canteen ceramics throughout the empire.
The competition of extra-peninsular productions, such as south-gallic or African seals, led to the emergence of a fine ceramic industrial production in Etruria and marked the emergence of smaller productions destined for a regional or sub-regional market . This situation continued throughout the Middle Ages, in conjunction with a phase of profound economic and social transformation that affected the whole field of manufacturing.
For Tuscany, you will have to wait for the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to assist in the affirmation of specialized workshops in the manufacture of precious enamel ceramics, located mainly in “minor” centers such as Montelupo or Asciano, gravitating to the orbit of the most important cities.
Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ceramic production went through a second transformation, mainly related to the change of technical and scientific knowledge of the period which, on the one hand, caused the interruption of some well-started activities, and on the other stimulated the the emergence of new working processes by both local workers and ceramists of extra-regional origin transferred to Tuscany. Thus, for example, the manufactures of Chigi-Zondadari in San Quirico d’Orcia or the Ginori factories in Sesto Fiorentino were born. These were joined in the nineteenth century by new plants, born on the wave of industrial progress, such as the Chini manufactory of Borgo San Lorenzo, Petroio’s terracotta factories or those of Anghiari’s ceramic ceramics. Some of these factories continue to be active even today, while the ceramic objects preserved in national and foreign museums remain the testimony of the quality and the levels achieved by the other manufactures.
It was certainly the presence of an important economic and administrative center such as Florence, since the Middle Ages, to promote the development, in the neighboring areas, of renowned manufacturing sites such as Montelupo and Impruneta.
Famous for its refined majolica, Montelupo reached its acme production between the mid-fifteenth and thirties of the following century, when its ceramics, in addition to meeting the needs of important Florentine bourgeois and noble families and large local institutions like hospitals, convents and pharmacies, were exported throughout the Mediterranean basin. After a period of recession that lasted for almost three centuries, at the end of the nineteenth century, Montelupo could resume the production of majolica, claiming, from the early twentieth century, among the most important centers in the national landscape of ceramic manufactures. From its development phases a large and accurate documentation is kept in the local Archaeological Museum and Ceramics; There are also numerous objects produced at Montelulpo still owned by the ancient establishments that were originally destined, such as, for example, the San Fino Spezia of San Gimignano.
Even though smaller, another famous majolica factory was, from the late fifteenth century and throughout the sixteenth century, the Cafaggiolo manufactory that supplied pottery to the Grand Ducal family and some great Florentine organizations.
Not least for the antiquity or the quality of the objects produced is Impruneta who owes its fame to the terracotta productions, and in particular to the valuable coatings which, since the fifteenth century, went to embellish some of the most important Florentine monuments (case exemplary is the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore). Also specialized in storage and production of ornamental terracotta, the center continues to offer high quality products, as evidenced by the numerous furnaces still active in its territory.
Among the most recent training activities, the Manifattura Ginori, which from the beginning of its production in the first half of the eighteenth century, distinguished itself internationally for the quality of its porcelain (obtained with innovative technological processes for Europe of that period) and the sophistication of the decorative repertoire that still today characterize the sophisticated design of its products.
Last but not least, the short, but overwhelming “adventure” of the Manifattura Chini of Borg has been forgotten between the end of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century
(From Institute and Museum of the History and Science it by E. Fani)