Italian handcrafts: Doccia Porcelain
- WTI Magazine #127 May 16, 2020
For centuries, porcelain was an exotic material imported from China, as its composition and manufacturing techniques remained unknown in Europe. From 1585 to 1610, Francesco I de' Medici financed the production of a pseudo-porcelain in Florence, intended for court use and for diplomatic gifts. The true formula, however, remained unknown until 1710, when Böttger discovered the basic ingredient, kaolin, and thus succeeded in producing the first genuine European hard-paste porcelain.
From then on, European porcelain became a true status symbol: promotion of its manufacture was considered an even greater sign of grandeur and power than possession of exemplary artefacts. The Marquis Carlo Ginori was one of the first to engage in this activity, which at the time represented quite a challenge in artistic, scientific and economic terms. In 1737, he established a factory in Doccia, and it has been in operation ever since.
Carlo Ginori gave no thought to expense while setting up his project. He had the idea of reproducing large sculptures in porcelain, a challenge that tended to surpass the technical limitations of the material.
The rare examples that were made are now the pride of a handful of museums and private collectors. For five generations, his descendants dedicated themselves to improving the quality of the products and keeping abreast of the technical and artistic innovations being made in Europe. T
he factory’s production continued to grow from its foundation until the birth of the Kingdom of Italy. In 1896, Carlo Benedetto and the other heirs of the Ginori enterprise accepted an offer of purchase from Augustus Richard, a majority shareholder of the Ceramica Richard company in Milan.
The new ownership adopted a course towards rapid industrialisation but the Doccia factory, while continuing to develop large-scale serial production, also incorporated the artistic features of the Art Nouveau style.
After World War I, Richard-Ginori, now one of Europe’s leading ceramic producers, experienced its most glorious period, thanks to the young architect Gio Ponti, who served as its artistic director from 1923 to 1933.
His talent and passion for manufacturing, as well as for the finest craftsmanship, enabled him to restore the ideal of Richard-Ginori ceramic art. Gio Ponti's legacy was taken up by Giovanni Gariboldi, his close associate, who became artistic director in 1946.
Some major collaborative ventures in recent decades include those with Ambrogio Pozzi and Joe Colombo (who designed the first class tableware for Alitalia in 1972), Antonia Campi, Sergio Asti, Gian Battista Vannozzi and Paola Navone.
The long production history continues to the present day, thanks to the extraordinary legacy of moulds, models and artefacts stored in the factory and in the museum in Sesto Fiorentino, and, above all, thanks to the know-how that today’s artisans have inherited from their masters to pass on to future generations.
Porcelain consists of three basic mineral components: 50% kaolin, 25% quartz and 25% feldspar. To obtain the characteristic immaculate whiteness of the mixture and the sheen of the glaze, the raw materials must be extremely pure or undergo a series of physical and mechanical processes that are performed in the ‘washeries’.
The modelling (or moulding) department is where all the plaster moulds needed for the creation of porcelain artefacts are prepared.
The manufacturing can involve numerous processes, some of which, such as casting, have remained virtually unchanged for centuries. Others, however, use cutting-edge technology and highly sophisticated machinery.
Excluding plates, trays, small cups and a few other simple forms, porcelain objects are created in several parts and must therefore be assembled after the moulding or casting. This operation is called garnishing and involves gluing the various parts together using a thick slurry that acts as an adhesive.
Porcelain is obtained by firing the objects twice in the kilns, the first time at 1000°C to solidify the body and the second at about 1400°C to vitrify the glaze with which it is coated. During firing the objects shrink in volume by up to 15%.
If the porcelain is also decorated, it will need further firings, varying in number depending on the complexity of the decoration.
After the first firing, the base is dipped in tubs containing liquid glaze, i.e. a colourless and transparent varnish that will give the body of the object its characteristic brilliant vitrified surface. After firing, the “white goods” are carefully examined for any imperfections.
The selectors divide the porcelain into first grade, second grade, third grade and scrap.
Porcelain must be painted entirely by hand, decorated with decal or decorated using a mixed technique involving retouching a decal base with a brush.
The Local Area
Doccia is located in the foothills to the north-west of Florence. Due to its proximity to the Tuscan capital and its bucolic landscape, it has been a popular holiday destination since the days of the Medici. The area in the shadow of the hills around Monte Morello is dotted with numerous farmhouses that still bear the ceramic Ginori coat of arms still on their facades, bearing witness to a centuries-old tradition.
Carlo Ginori's father, Lorenzo Ginori, lived for a long time in Portugal, where he worked as a merchant and a banker. One of his assignments was to purchase Chinese porcelain for the collection of Cosimo III, and when he returned to Florence, he commissioned a large white porcelain table service from China with a blue Ginori coat of arms. This may have been the inspiration behind his son's idea to establish a porcelain factory.
Carlo Ginori was an enlightened gentleman and a passionate enthusiast of scientific studies. In around 1752 he had a number of porcelain trays thrown into the Tyrrhenian Sea near Livorno to see if coral would take root on them. Two trays were recovered by his son and are now on display at the Richard-Ginori Museum in Sesto Fiorentino and in the British Museum in London.
Carlo Collodi, author of the book “The Adventures of Pinocchio” wrote much of his masterpiece near the factory in Doccia. He even spent long periods as a guest of his brother, Paolo Lorenzini, one of the most famous directors of the Ginori Factory. The inhabitants of Sesto Fiorentino still mention the fact that the story of Pinocchio was based on places and characters in the local area.
By Camera di Commercio di Firenze with UNIONCAMERE