The Impruneta’s Terracotta
The name terracotta is synonymous with the name Impruneta. It is tied irrevocably to its history and economy, and vice-versa. It is a tradition that has lasted for over 700 years. The State’s Archives contain an agreement, signed on March 23, 1309, delineating how a group of “fornacini” (owners and workers of the kilns or “fornaci”), counting among them 23 urn and pot-makers, formed a union based on protecting the integrity and workmanship of their products.
Impruneta’s terracotta fame and fortune derives from several factors, including the clay’s quality, its geographic position, and the abundance of wooded areas providing kindling for kilns. In the surrounding pine-covered hills (in pinetis), lie deposits of Galestro, a special type of clay previously known by the Etruscans and Romans.
Impruneta’s artisans made vases, ornate urns, jars, pots, tiles, bricks, sculptures, and other construction materials for the Florentine market. Some of the stellar names of the Renaissance used Impruneta’s “cotto”, among them: Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, Michelozzo, Della Robbia, Desiderio da Settignano, Verrocchio, Benedetto da Maiano, ecc.
Impruneta experienced its first terracotta-driven economic growth during the 12th century. Europe was coming out of the Middle Ages and trade was flourishing. As a result there was an increase in construction of fortified city-states, religious shrines, and votive objects. Impruneta’s clay proved to be the best for their manufacture.
Due to its Marian Shrine and its clay, Impruneta became a focal point of prayer and commerce. It was sacred and secular, as was its “cotto.”
Kilns or “fornaci” emerged alongside construction sites and multiplied in no time. The market that began with the production of construction materials soon spread into other areas to satisfy emerging needs, i.e. jars and pots to store food and ornamental urns, and vases to decorate gardens and homes.
The real terracotta economic boom arrived in the 1400s, when kiln-owners, or “fornaciai”, received commissions destined to become part of art history. Among these illustrious commissions were the tiles and bricks for the construction of Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore. Filippo Brunelleschi would himself come to Impruneta to choose the tiles and bricks for the construction of the Duomo’s Cupola.
In the 1500s, manufacturing of terracotta artifacts grew again. Buildings were beginning to display façades of “naked” bricks, i.e. Fortezza da Basso, and private residences, i.e. the palazzos Budini-Gattai and Zuccari. Architects and builders used terracotta artifacts in the paving of piazzas, i.e. Piazza della Signoria, and by Michelangelo himself, who used Impruneta’s terracotta to pave the Medicean-Laurentian Library.
In the following centuries, the industry of the “cotto” molded itself to accommodate diverse needs. In the 1800s, the era of Gothic and Renaissance-inspired shapes required glazed clay mixtures. “Cotto” manufacturing techniques changed and evolved. Gardens became filled with statues of sphinxes and Egyptian-inspired statues of women (as featured in the Stibbert Villa), while red terracotta colors united with architectural and decorative elements of the Liberty Style to revolutionize the early 1900s.
Widely used in the restoration of old farmhouses and villas in the 1960s and 70s, the manufacturing of terracotta items today focuses on two areas: industrial markets with the manufacturing of bricks and tiles for home usage (along with the manufacturing of ventilated sheetrock and new amalgams of terracotta/resin/quartz), and artisanal markets with the manufacturing of urns, vases, and other decorative objects created using traditional methods.