What's so special about Deruta? – Paradiso Ceramics Australia | Handmade in Italy

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What's so special about Deruta?

Located about 19 kilometres south of Perugia in the region of Umbria, Deruta would be just another hill town were it not for its reputation as the Italian capital of glazed earthenware known as ‘maiolica’.  

Maiolica describes tin-glazed pottery decorated in colours on a white background and dates back to the Renaissance period. It is still is produced in many Italian towns but true maiolica devotees ultimately seek out Deruta, where over 200 factories still produce the colourful pottery. 

Along the lower main street of Deruta, window after window displays a dazzling array of painted ceramics. The mass collection of ceramics in large factories like this one can be rather overwhelming!

The display of ceramics in the larger Deruta factories can be overwhelming.

The charming old town on the hill however offers shoppers a more relaxed atmosphere. Visitors walk through an archway (no cars allowed) and along a street lined with ancient buildings adorned by painted tiles, strolling in and out of stores while the cheerful fountain in the piazza provides soft background music. 

Through this archway is the entrance to the old hill top town of Deruta.
Deruta's simple fountain in the main piazza

The town is filled with ceramic shops all offering their own unique slant on pots, plates, bowls, lamps and other practical and decorative pieces, and varying in quality and price. Shop owners greet passers-by with smiles, eager to sell their wares.  

On our first visit to Deruta in 2006, we stumbled upon the factory of Sergio Tomassini in the industrial area, west of the freeway. Signor Tomassini proudly gave us a tour of his large workshop, showing us how ceramics are produced from moulding the clay to firing, dipping into liquid glaze, painting, and then firing again. Sergio didn’t speak a word of English, but his generosity and love of his craft were very engaging.

Sergio Tomassini has been making ceramics most of his life.
As a young man, Sergio began making ceramics in his back yard, gradually building his business until he moved to a factory and employed additional artists. We have visited Sergio’s workshop many times over the years and bought several items from him. The first were two small lamps painted with the Raffaellesco (dragon) design which we brought home in our hand luggage. (Not recommended 😏.)
Sergio Tomassini was the first ceramic maker we met in Deruta

On one visit, Sergio called on his young niece Laura to interpret. As well as being a talented artist (and beautiful), she speaks English quite well and was helpful on several subsequent trips.

Laura Tomassini with Marg Anderson and Jan Pont.

Laura has kindly run ceramic painting sessions for groups of our friends, demonstrating the painting technique (it’s more difficult than it looks!) and firing their creations, a unique memento of their time in Deruta.

Painting designs on ceramics is far harder than it looks.
A fun and educational activity for many friends who have joined us in Italy is a lesson in painting ceramics by Laura Tomassini in her uncle's workshop in Deruta.

Laura now works for CeramicArte who makes the magnificent lava stone tables we import.

Our other favourite ‘maioliche artistiche’ are Carla at Terra & Fuoco (photo below), Novella at Deruta Placens, Demet and Giovanni at D&G Designs, and Carlo and Gabriela at Favaroni Carlo.

Carla Corna has been making ceramics and teaching others how to paint for many years.

We are very happy that Favaroni and D&G Designs are now major suppliers to Paradiso Ceramics.

Our favourite Deruta restaurant is almost hidden down a back lane and goes by the name of Taverna del Gusto. Indoors it looks like a cave with a vaulted roof - a little like a grotto really.

Taverna del Gusto in Deruta serves delicious, typically Umbrian food.

If the weather is fine you can sit in the narrow alley at painted lava stone tables, with large umbrellas to protect you from the sun if you happen to be there for the short time sunshine manages to squeeze between the buildings.

The food is typical Umbrian fare, simple and delicious. The house wine is served in ceramic jugs (naturally). We are greeted like old friends now, and often small glasses of limoncello appear at the end of a meal.

For those whose interest in ceramics reaches beyond shopping, the Regional Ceramics Museum of Deruta is the oldest ceramics museum in Italy; established in 1898, it displays more than 6000 works, many dating back to the Middle Ages. There is also a school where amateurs or professionals can learn or perfect the centuries-old craft, and some artists (like Carla) will provide private tuition.

Shops lining the main street of the old town of Deruta display their wares on the walls outside.

We highly recommend adding Deruta to any trip to Italy. The town lives and breathes artistic maiolica; it’s everywhere you look. The street signs, bar tables, shop signs and even the benches in the town park are made of hand-painted ceramics.  

Even the park benches in Deruta are made of hand painted lava stone.

Let us know if you do plan to check out Deruta. I am sure we can arrange a ‘behind the scenes’ visit to a maiolica factory while you’re there! 😊