The pavement of San Francesco and the pavements of the church of Santa Maria in Spello, and San Pietro in Perugia. Even though Deruta is particularly famous for its lustreware, it should not be forgotten that alongside the latter is a polychrome production of an extremely high standard. Shapes and decorations are for the most part repeated: in general, we find the same objects and the same motifs which characterize the lustreware production, through an appearance is also made by plates decorated with grotesque sepia- colored on a blue background, new versions of the late fifteenth-century I/white on white" decoration, as well as the so-called "crown of thorns", consisting of a green vine-shoot knotted into a wreath, and other floral decorations. From 1500 onwards the I/floral volute motif is also common, which in the 20th century would be reworked and widely circulated, going by the name of "Ricco Deruta". Additional mention should be made of the production of the storiated ware, of which Giacomo Mancini, known as "el frate", was the declared author in that he signed in full a series of pieces executed both in lustre and in polychrome, dating back to the years between 1541 and 1545.
The polychrome masterpiece of Deruta Renaissance majolica production is the pavement of the church of San Francesco which was found, unfortunately only in part, beneath the flooring of the church of the same name in 1902. It consists for the most part of tiles in the shape of crosses and eight-pointed stars fitted together: In the former appear arabesques and foliage, while the latter contain figurative motifs such as prophets, muses, Olympic divinities, saints, allegorical figures and male and female profiles. Blue-colored shades are in the clear majority and on the border appears the date 1524.
The fact that many of the tiles are missing prevents a complete understanding of the iconographic significance of the pavement as a whole, even though it has recently been ascertained that its author, conventionally known as the II Master of the San Francesco pavement, completed this work with the assistance of other painters, using various prints, including, to be more precise, several depictions inspired by the frescoes in the Perugia Exchange, the famous series of engravings known as the II Mantegna tarots and other graphic material.
The Mancini workshop was also responsible for the pavements in the sacristy of San Pietro in Perugia and the high altar in the church of Santa Maria in Spello, dated 1536 and 1566 respectively. Iconographically quite similar, the decorations are arranged in a carpet-like pattern with decorative bands of knots and arabesques around the border enclosing areas of elaborate grotesques with winged horses, genii blowing trumpets from which issue flames, winged putti arranged symmetrically around a central candelabrum and grotesque masks’9. Among the colors, yellow and orange tones are prevalent and combine perfectly with the unrefined, yet extraordinarily vivacious, decoration. The two pavements thus reflect the general trend of Deruta majolica which, from the second half of the century, is specifically characterized by an ever decreasing accuracy in the drawing, and by a vivacity which at times touches on caricature.
These characteristics are evident in the numerous display plates, both lustre and polychrome, many of which can be attributed to the Mancini workshop, and also in numerous votive tiles whose personages allude closely to the figures on the pavements. The appearance of these particular tiles represents the prelude to a tradition which, in the centuries to come, was to lead to the extraordinary flourishing of ex-voto offerings for the Madonna dei Bagni in the environs of Deruta.
If you would like to see more ceramics follow the link to the National gallery of art tour: Italian Renaissance Ceramics web site.