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Do you know the traditional handicraft in Umbria?
In Umbria, handicraft and art date back to the Middle Ages and then the Renaissance, when they were expressions of those rich cultures and the workshop production was defended by Art and Craft Corporations, because they had an high economic and cultural importance. Then, they have been polished through ongoing exchanges during the centuries, and nowadays Umbrian handicraft tradition is still alive and preserved by continuous studies and revival works.
Next to the main artistic production, there has always been a significant manufacture of everyday objects, such as potteries, wrought iron, glass and textile products.
I guess if you think about Umbrian handicraft, you first think of Deruta potteries, don’t you?
This world-renowned tradition has Etruscan origins; during the Middle Ages refined ceramics were produced here, but it was during the Renaissance that the production reached the maximum splendor, when Deruta potteries were required by the nobles of all Europe.
In the 15th century there was the appearance of yellow, orange and blue colors and the object of daily use became decorative ones; shapes, forms and decorations developed following different, original inspirations with motifs of flowers, grotesques, crowns of thorns, animals and much more.
After a downfall period in the 18th century, in the 20th century the production bloomed again and nowadays Deruta houses lots of workshops and factories, the School of Ceramics with designers, architects and artists of international fame, and the Regional Ceramics Museum, the most ancient one in Italy, that displays over 6000 artifacts from the Middle Ages to the current days.
But Deruta is not the only great ceramic producer in Umbria: Orvieto also has a well-established and illustrious tradition that reached unequalled artistic levels during the Etruscan period and then in the Middle Ages; this production was distinguished by the excellent workmanship and original ornaments like varnish and reverse painting on glass.
Speaking of Orvieto, have you ever seen the wonderful windows of its Cathedral? They were created in Piegaro, where glass-making is a typical tradition practiced for 800 years and it’s still alive in the hands of local artisans.
The old town center houses the Glass Museum which explain the centennial history of glass production and still engages some glass-makers who help to keep the old techniques alive.
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The maximum level of the regional artistic and technical expression has been reached also with terracotta production, renowned since ancient times, grown from everlasting to everlasting and still produced in accordance with centuries-old methods.
You should visit the Brickworks museum of Marsciano, where several objects made with poor materials as water and clay, the perfect place to discover old crafts and techniques, extremely important for the economic and commercial growth of the town and its territory.
Then, there is the wrought iron manufacturing, a typical tradition of the rural civilization of the region, traceable everywhere: blacksmiths of Gubbio (the most productive center of the region), Assisi, and Città della Pieve created gates, coins, weapons etc; Cascia was specialized in the production of pliers for hosts, Norcia produced surgical instruments and Magione was well-known for embossed copper.
Even textile production has a long-term tradition in Umbria, dating back to the 12th century and it was very appreciated in the whole Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, thanks to its refined colors and designs; centuries-old wooden weaving frames are still used by artisans. Have you ever seen the typical Tovaglia Perugina, with the Eye of Partridge weaving, recognizable in numerous medieval Umbrian frescoes?
Goldsmithing is a tradition always alive and growing in Umbria, there are new workshops where young artisans conserve the longstanding knowledge of the old masters of this art, and also the ancient Etruscan granulation technique has been brought back to life!
Jewels and goldworks boast centuries of history, and they still represent a regional excellence of quality, uniqueness and refinement; the most interesting workshops are in Perugia, Todi, Orvieto, Torgiano and Terni.
Last but not least, let’s talk about wood-working, a tradition that has lived in every corner of Umbria since ancient times and expressed at 2 levels: everyday objects and farm instruments, and the arts of marquetry and the intaglio carving, used for the decoration of churches and palaces, together with the production of prestigious musical instruments and pipe organs.
Nowadays, there are several workshops that still look after antique artifacts and their restoration, but they also produce furniture in period style. Sculptors and cabinetmakers are still operant in some town such as Todi, Città di Castello, Gubbio, Assisi and Perugia.
Next time we will meet 3 artisans in Perugia, would you come with us?
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I’m 100% Umbrian, and the better I know my awesome region, the more I love it! I’ve achieved a Tourism degree at the Sapienza University of Rome and I work as museum operator and guide, but I also write for two travel blogs.
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