Ceramics have been made in Nove for three hundred years, and in fact this artistic endeavour owes its success to a favourable conjunction of political, economical and environmental factors.
The oldest and most illustrious manufacturers sprang up along the Isacchina canal, a waterway that runs through the historic centre of Nove, and on the banks of which two important mills were established for preparing ceramic bodies.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Venetian Republic and the city of Venice incentivised the production of ceramics to limit imports and encourage exports. In 1732, the “Savi della Mercanzia” council granted Giovanni Battista Antonibon the privilege of producing high-quality majolica for twenty years without paying any taxes.
The Brenta river, which flows to the east of the residential area of Nove, played a decisive role in the birth of ceramics: tree trunks were brought in along the river on large rafts, which were then collected, cut and distributed to the various factories to fuel their kilns. A kiln had to work for several days at temperatures of around 900/1000 degrees for majolica and 1200 degrees for porcelain.
Stones were also gathered from the river and then calcinated or pounded to retrieve the calcium carbonate, silica and quartz: the fundamental materials for ceramic bodies.
The gypsum was taken from the Asiago plateau, the clay from the hills of Marostica, and the kaolin from Tretti, providing the necessary materials for ceramics and especially porcelain. These materials, along with others, were processed at the old mills that were established in the area for that very purpose.
In the new factory (which is still active and run by the Barettoni family) Giovanni Battista Antonibon began the production of fine majolica pottery with “Blue Delft” decorations, and the first floral compositions with cut flowers. Only a few colours were used: green, purple, manganese, blue and yellow. In 1739 and 1742 the Antonibons opened two shops in Venice and Bassano del Grappa respectively, and in the decade between 1744-1754 the company experienced its greatest period thanks to its workforce, which included hundreds of employees, and the opening of other shops in various cities throughout Italy.
Export also increased to various other countries in Europe and beyond, such as Germany, Austria and Turkey.
From 1773 to 1782 the factory was managed by Giovanni Maria Baccin, who initiated experiments with the production of earthenware, a ceramic material tested in Stafford in England from 1725 onwards and which was mainly used to create striking “folk ceramics”.
Baccin also built an extraordinary mill for the production of ceramic bodies, which still exists today to the south of the historic centre and is one of the last examples in Europe.
After 1782, Giovanni Battista Antonibon laid the foundations for the production of porcelain, thanks to the intervention of the master Varion Jean Pierre, appointed by the French royal factory.
From 1802 to 1825, management of Antonibon’s three manufacturing departments (porcelain, majolica and earthenware) passed to Giovanni Baroni, who adapted the style of the ceramics to Neoclassicism. New manufacturing competitors appeared in Veneto in this period, with Sebellin in Vicenza and Fontebasso in Treviso.
By the mid-century, the production underwent a period of crisis that fostered the creation of the so-called “folk ceramics” that led to the formation of a new decorative genre. Indeed, in 1859 Antonio Cecchetto’s manufacturing company began successful production of ceramics with folk decorations. The production was characterised by the use of the cheapest earthenware, which was decorated quickly using sponge stencils and templates depicting popular themes and figures related to religious traditions, popular myths, the seasons, the months and work in the fields.
There were also plenty of decorations featuring soldiers, ladies and famous people, complete with patriotic writings and quotes.
Nine new manufacturers were established in Nove in the second half of the nineteenth century, including Agostinelli-Dal Prà, the Bernardi manufacturing company, the Antonio Zen company (which can still be admired in its prestigious historic site), as well as companies based in Bassano del Grappa such as Bonato, Passarin and the porcelain maker Luigi Fabris.
After the two wars, ceramics also experienced a happy period in terms of production and exports (especially to the United States and Germany), which saw many leading manufacturing companies rise on the wave of economic progress.
Different compositions of minerals are used to blend into a paste depending on the type of material to be produced.
Porcelain is composed of kaolin and feldspar, whereas earthenware uses clay, calcium carbonate, magnesium and quartz.
Only once it has completely dried, the ceramics are fired in suitable kilns at varying temperatures, according to the type of material (porcelain at 1,250°-1,350°, earthenware at 980°-1000°).
The ceramics are subsequently decorated and then immersed in the glaze. Finally, they are fired for the second time, at the same temperature, to achieve the final glazing effect.
The decorated porcelain objects are subjected to a third firing at 750 degrees, known as “piccolo fuoco” (third firing, or literally ‘small fire’).
The Local Area
Nove is known throughout the world as “the City of Ceramics”, because ceramics have been produced here for three hundred years.
Today, production is mainly focused on everyday items or furniture accessories. Some of the historical manufacturers are still leaders in high-quality production, and have been particularly successful on international markets.
The region is also home to the studios of artists and artisans who work with ceramics, some of which have established themselves in the international art scene and have made an important contribution and added to the prestige of contemporary artistic production since the 1950s.
To celebrate the most important local tradition, the city of Nove decided to open the Ceramic Museum. Inaugurated in April of 1995, it is located in the elegant Palazzo De Fabris, which housed the local Institute of Ceramic Arts until a few years ago.
Every year the “Festival of Ceramics/Open Doors” event takes place, with a market fair held every September in Piazza De Fabris, with hundreds of exhibitors coming from the famous ceramic cities of Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and other European countries. Open Doors is an opportunity to get to know the artists and their work, and to try to learn the secrets of “making ceramics” first hand.
Curator — Camera di Commercio di Vicenza