Happy boats of ceramist of Vietri

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text Vito Pinto

The ceramic boats are bright and colorful that master craftsmen of Vietri have left to history made of clay of a coastal town where myth and legend meet in the harbor of the Etruscan Marcina.
201405-12mThe sails of Vietri are multicoloured and they recall Mediterranean brightness: they all sail towards “the island of Neverland” laid on a big shower tray by Guido Gambone, where “happiness” was enclosed in a marine bay, among small fishermen houses and cliffs full of lemons. The ceramists of Vietri have built a relationship with the sea eversince, the sea right in front of the town where the age of clay have chiseled centuries passing by. In 1930 Lisel Oppel, German ceramist with Russian origins, wrote: “Every night fishermen’s boats with their lights pass by in a long row, a young man spreads in the mild air the melody of a melancholic song”. Through the sea ceramic artifacts reached the coast of Sicily and beyond, the Mediterranean side of Africa, almost like following the route of the ancient Maritime Republic of Amalfi. A journey made by tall ships first, then vessels, almost like it perpetuate ancient memories of commercial trades with the Islamic Orient. It is no coincidence that often black oarsmen or Egyptian captains appear on boats drawn on patches made of “riggiole” (ceramic tiles). So, evoking the local tradition, Richard Dolker draw the lines on the patch of the “happy boat”, with the princess and her maids, oarsmen and a Lute player with magnificent clothes of the Egyptian culture. The German master localizes the scene placing in a happy parade a bunch of colorful fishes with typical shades of Vietri. Salvatore Procida represents the world of the myth of Homer with a patch made of low relief paintings “Ulysses and the sirens”, where the tall ship enters from outside and heads right to the centre of the scene. It also belong to the Procida’s workshop, it’s the canoe of black oarsmen, shaped, where the movement is impressed in the men’s attitude who show how they row. In an article on the magazine “Domus” on May 5, 1929, (the magazine was founded only one year before by Giò Ponti and Father Barnabite Giovanni Semeria) titled “The ceramic of Vietri sul Mare”, the author highlighted the opportunity of letting people know about the ceramic of Vietri which, in its illusory simplicity, had particular inspiration of genuineness and originality. Among all he talks about the production of vases and other items with decoration in relief, where marine subjects, such as “brigantines and schooners with unfurled sails”, stand out. A subject, the sea, that could not be unrelated to the ceramic of Vietri due to obvious reasons of geographic and environmental position. In fact we need to highlight that from the sea – because of the colors, the brightness, the commercial value – ceramic has always draw inspiration of idea and economy. Paola Zanuttini mentioned: “Vietri needed sea for more important and concrete things. Not for baths. Here there were factories, the “Valle dei mulini” (Valley of mills), the “faenzere” (places where clay used to be worked), paper factories, manufacture of fabric. Long time ago vessels used to travel in this water, not paddle boats”. So in Vietri sul Mare there is a close connection between sea and ceramic, there is a tradition consolidated in time that has no founders, but only the spontaneous and sincere interpretation of the various creators. But in this context a particular spot belongs to the tall ship, the one with three sails, the jib and the top gallant sails unfurled with the pennants following North- West wind to best steer the boat. It was the symbol of an ancestral relation with the sea, so that no real ceramist could not recreate. Its representations are numerous, both shaped and in low relief in dishes or simply painted. Among the last ones, wonderful is the patch on the façade of the ancient factory Avallone, where a huge tall ship dominates agitated waves. On the contrary, calm is the sailing of the galleon placed in the internal part of the entrance of the Salesian Oratory, patch recovered from the floor of the living room of the Villa of the Marquises Carosino. Also in one of the oldest houses in Positano there is a patch that, along with other two, respectively representing Sant’Antonio Abate and some fishes in profile, represents a tall ship, a sort of galleon of the seventeenth century with Arabic elements, subject presented also by the author Gunther Stuedeman in his nineteenth century motifs. It was a happy time when Central European artists were in Vietri sul Mare: those foreign artists presented ancient motifs ennobling them with their cultural signature. It’s the patch of eight tiles that Richard Dolker created in 1928 with the Industria Ceramica Salernitana (name of a Ceramic Factory): here, confused sailors watch helpless from a tall ship Giona’s disappear into the whale’s belly. On the contrary, what becomes a protective cradle is the tall ship suspended in the centre of the scene and surrounded by algae, fishes, corals, sirens, that Guido Gambone has painted on a square patch of 25 tiles created for Manifattura Artistica Ceramiche Salernitane; a sort of summary of the art vocabulary of the period between Liberty and Decò, which insisted on figures half human and half animal: the Princess-Swan of Puskin, the Little Mermaid of Andersen, the generic fairy tale that becomes myth in a mare country that look out onto a sea where Ulysses travelled towards the Sirens’s voice. The relation between Vietri and the sea is even more accentuated in a dish of the 20’s of the last century, where a tall ship with St Andrew’s cross on the main mast sail has on its background “I due fratelli” (the two brothers, name of the two identical rocks emerging from the sea of Vietri), majestic rocks that narrate an ancient legend, inalienable symbol of a marine territory. We could go on and on telling about the relationship between the ceramic of Vietri and the sea through pictorial and sculptural representations created throughout centuries by ceramists of Vietri and by those who have put their artistic ability, either for a long or a short time, into ceramic. But it would only be a long list of works. On the contrary, important is the symbolism of the tall ship in all his representations throughout years, decades and centuries, symbolism not only for master craftsmen – so much precious handicraft in creating a tall ship shaped with ropes, ladders, sails, the hatch, the anchor aweigh, the forecastle and the bow with a figurehead – but also for a town that has a tall ship on its city badge, almost like it has to emphasize the fact of being a marine town with an ancient ceramic tradition.

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