English exhibition

Panel 01 

1889-1939: tiles make their debut and develop

Ceramics enshrine everything: the true and the mendacious, the real and the fictitious, in arbitrary and accidental proportions (...).
Giò Ponti, 1925.

Which were the driving forces in Sassuolo during the late 1800s that led to the emergence of an industrial type of ceramic in the factories of the Rubbiani family, and to the Modena-Reggio District becoming the “world capital” of that product in the 1970s? This exhibition answers that question. Thanks to Antonio Medici’s amazing collection of over 7,000 items donated by family members to the Municipality of Fiorano. The first “dry-pressed majolica tiles” were exhibited in Rome in 1889. Following new health regulations, these tiles became widely used in slaughterhouses, dairies and public baths between 1920 and 1939, while tax exemptions and new lifestyles also made them a popular choice for the kitchens, bathrooms and entrance halls of private residences. The industry of Sassuolo enjoyed its first, all-important “boom”. By virtue of this and once the destruction wrought by the Second World War had been overcome, the tiles of the Modena-Reggio District rapidly took off towards the success of the 1970s. And they were to achieve this goal “as if by a miracle” if one continues to underestimate what had been achieved when they were as yet unknown.

Panel 02

Where tile materials were quarried

Some five million years of interactions between the oceans and seas with the mountains as they formed and with the sediments left by rivers, led to the creation of the marl clay - the so-called blue clay in còch dialect – to be found in our foothills and mountain areas; a precious raw material for the very first tiles. In the 19th century, there were five active quarries in Fiorano: Ca’ Rossa, Montecchio; in Sassuolo: Rometta, Mezzavia, San Polo; in Casalgrande: Ca’ de Fii, La Bernardona, Monte Armone.

From bricks to tiles

“Tiles”, result of industrialization and the mechanical pressing of slightly moistened powders, differ from “bricks”, which are made by stamping mouldable clay in the plastic state. Production is always linked to the supply of raw material, which is abundant in this area. There are two clay outcrops in the Apennine hills of Modena and Reggio Emilia: the most well-known being that of the terracottas, light-coloured, calcareous (marly) and pinkish-beige after being fired at 980°C. Then there is the type used for making stoneware (“grès”), scaly, with iron oxide, low porosity and high mechanical consistency, fired at 1050°C.

Panel 03

Historic Italian ceramic works

The presence of clay is widespread in Italy, and where clay and clay minerals are to be found there will also be ceramic. Tiles depend on the nature of the rock, fire resistance, the presence of limestone, impurities and agglomerates. The traditional Italian products are fired at temperatures within 1050°C while true stoneware and porcelain require as much as 1350°C. In the recent past, red stoneware was typical of Ceramica Appiani of Treviso, the ceramic works of Castellamonte, Imola and Sassuolo; white stoneware was typical of Manifattura Chini Borgo S.Lorenzo (FI); pigmented porcelain stoneware for mosaic of Vaccari Ceramica Ligure (GE) and Fabbriche Riunite Gosi Ferrari (CR). Richard Ginori (MI) and Barbieri Burzi Bologna were known for their production of high-temperature earthenware, Società Cooperativa Imola, Fabbriche Riunite di Ceramiche, Fabbrica F.lli Minardi, Fabbrica Trerè, Fornace Ceramica Bubani in Faenza and Cantagalli (FI) were known for their majolica as were enterprises in Marche, Vietri and Naples. Clinker was typical of Fabbrica Ing. Sala (BG) and white stoneware of Ceramica Joo Milano di Gio Ponti.

Panel 04

From handcraft trades to the first tiles

After the Unification of Italy, certain things began to move in the economic landscape of Sassuolo. The first steam machines for spinning cotton were introduced in 1853 by Angelo Dieci, the “cloth maker”. In addition, the Rubbiani factories, which were divided between brothers Carlo and Don Antonio, underwent remarkable quality developments, as attested by medals and exhibitions in Italy and abroad. The entrepreneurs of Sassuolo also took part in important initiatives focused on improving infrastructure in the area: the bridge over the river Secchia and the railway lines towards Modena (1883) and Reggio (1891-92) paved the way to new industrial estates. The extensive Rubbiani family, with all its offshoots created through marriages with members of the Dieci and Carani families, progressively withdrew from the ceramic sector and invested in other industries: electricity for street lighting (1913) and a large cold storage facility rented to the Municipality (1915). The ceramists took part first hand in this modernization process.

Panel 09

Sizes, glazes, decoration

The Rubbiani factory opted for the 20x20 cm size, while the 19x19 cm “riggiola” tiles from the Vietri area were preferred in southern Italy. They were mainly employed for floors. Polychrome porcelain stoneware was also available in smaller sizes and was widely used in the public buildings of the early 1900s; wall plaques and house number signs in majolica were produced in special sizes. The rectangular pieces obtained by cutting a whole panel and convex pieces for corners are of particular interest. Colours, pigments and glazes were to become increasingly important over the years and although they were strictly “home-made”, they all contributed to enriching the available range of nuances.
Decoration by hand, stencils and painting were the predominant embellishing techniques employed; ceramic litho was rare, but already used. Silk screen printing only made its debut in the second half of the 1900s.

Panel 10

The Carlo Rubbiani Factory

“There is only one glazed tile factory in Italy at the present time, the Carlo Rubbiani Enterprise of Sassuolo. Of course there are other factories that make tiles, but all of composite materials, thus more expensive.”
From the promotional leaflet of Società Anonima per la fabbricazione delle piastrelle d’argilla smaltate (Joint-Stock Company for the manufacture of glazed clay tiles), Modena 1911. In 1847, an enterprise known as Fabbrica della Terra Rossa di Contrada Lei which had been founded in the late 1700s by majolica decorator Pietro Lei, was taken over by Giovanni Maria Rubbiani. In 1853, he acquired the prestigious Fabbrica della Majolica di Contrada del Borgo from count Ferrari Moreni and entrusted it to his sons Don Antonio and Carlo. Don Antonio was a progressive priest, defrocked because of his liberal views, as well as being assessor for the Municipality of Sassuolo after the Unification. He had travelled a lot in Italy and Europe, visited the 1867 Paris Exposition and had collected information about how to improve his factories wherever he went. His brother Carlo looked after the Fabbrica della Majolica (or “Vecchia” as it was called), company of which he took the helm, changing its name to Ditta Carlo Rubbiani. A decisive step towards “perfecting” the production was taken following the arrival from Correggio of artist Domenico Bagnoli (1824-1889), who subsequently passed the baton to the twenty-year-old Florentine Carlo Casaltoli (1865-1903). It is to his credit that Ditta Carlo Rubbiani switched to making “pianella” tiles, decorative series for walls, sinks, etc. Until now, this “revolution” had been dated back to 1888/1889. Doubts have been recently cast on these dates following the discovery of sketches of decorated tiles by Bagnoli, datable to the last years of his activity at the Carlo Rubbiani factory (1882-1885).

Panel 11

Società Anonima Ceramica di Sassuolo

Carlo Rubbiani failed to find worthy heirs in his family, thus Giovanni and his wife Rosina Dieci bought the former Fabbrica della Terra Rossa together with Bertoli. By the end of the 1800s, Milan had become the major business and banking market of the Kingdom. That is where the Rubbiani company went to scout orders and capital for new markets and investments. New technologies were being developed in Sassuolo while city-pair connection issues came to the fore. The Carlo Rubbiani enterprise encountered a “growth crisis” in this context, a situation that led to the company being liquidated and to the entrance of new partners and Matteo Olivari. Genoese by birth but educated in Milan, he founded the Società in Accomandita Semplice Carlo Rubbiani, di Rubbiani, Olivari & C. (Limited Partnership Carlo Rubbiani, Olivari & C) (1910), which was converted into a joint-stock company called Società Anonima Ceramica di Sassuolo in 1920. Besides glazed tiles, this undertaking also dealt in refractory materials, bricks, electricity and artificial ice. The company headquarters moved to Milan, while the factory grew until it occupied neighbouring buildings and plots of land. Thus, the company overcame the unrest of those years, especially the premature death of Olivari, real mastermind behind the rebirth of Sassuolo’s ceramic industry and custodian of the Rubbiani family name.

Panel 14

Società Anonima Ceramiche Marca Corona

The death of Matteo Olivari (1932) triggered off a corporate reorganization process and Società Anonima Ceramica di Sassuolo became Società Anonima Ceramiche Marca Corona (1935). A considerable increase in capital was resolved together with a project to enlarge the factory in via Cavallotti. The ancient silk spinnery was converted since it was no longer suited to the tile sizes and decorations that Marca Corona produced after the arrival of other decorators. Much larger, with extra kilns and smokestacks, the factory remained near to the Rubbiani residence. The production of ceramic had already been classified as a polluting industry, to be located well away from towns. War broke out and put a halt to the town planning reform project and fuel supplies, which slowed down production. Marca Corona sustained bombing damage and removal of machinery.

Panel 16

The trade war of the letter “S”

Besides the ceramic industry, distilleries and processed meat production plants also flourished in Sassuolo between the 1920s and 1930s. A sort of business competition appears to have arisen between these enterprises whereby the bone of contention was use of the letter “S” of Sassuolo. The distilleries had already appropriated the name “Sassolino” for their famous liqueur, while Bellentani stamped the letter “S” in the lead seal applied to its processed meats. It was not by chance that in those years, Società Anonima Ceramica di Sassuolo registered its trademarks with the letter “S” and specified, in the list of protected products, that the registration also covered liqueurs, wines and processed meats.

Panel 18

Ing. Rizzi & figli Sassuolo

There is very little information about this ceramic works. The company remained in business from the beginning of the century through to the first decades of the 1900s. Its headquarters was located in Via Repubblica and it produced tableware and kitchenware as well as tiles. Founded by Giusto Rizzi, of Bolognese origin and probably a former employee in the Rubbiani plant, the company closed down in 1944, year in which Alfredo Rizzi died.

Dry pressing in Sassuolo

The machine used for making the first dry-pressed tiles was patented in England in the mid-1800s. Examples of this type of machine could be found in historic ceramic works until only a few years ago. At the turn of the 1900s, the German press Dorst became widespread also in Italy but was then replaced after World War II by Sacmi models. The dry pressing process required crushed and refined clay which had to be sifted to obtain a uniform particle size, 5-10% moisture level and was pressed by machines which, at that time, were the Star or toggle moulding type. Compared to the previous wet method, this process made drying much faster.

Panel 19

Ceramica Ninzoli Marconi Lusenti

Little is known about this small ceramic works. All that remains are the names of the owners, Ninzoli, Marconi and Lusenti. As far as can be ascertained, the workshop was operative between the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s in Vicolo Avanzini, located in the Rocca district of Sassuolo, as confirmed by the archaeological excavations performed during the recent paving work in Piazza Martiri Partigiani.

“Bianco” Sassuolo tiles

The substantial, long-established production of small-size glazed tiles lies at the origin of the famous slogan “Bianco di Sassuolo”. More recently, this particular shade of white - so precise, soft, velvety and full-bodied - has been obtained by fusing frits - vitreous compositions free from lead oxide - with zirconium dioxide, which has an opacifying effect.

Panel 20

The Carani family, born entrepreneurs

The affairs of the Carani family began with Giuseppe Carani who, in the mid-1800s, ran one of the three brickworks situated in Via Ghiarola Vecchia. Towards the end of the century, use of a modern Hoffmann kiln had allowed the business to expand, develop and double during the following years. Sons Egidio and Eliseo continued their father’s enterprise by acquiring and opening new brickworks in the area until they almost had a monopoly on the industry. It was Edigio’s son Eugenio, a dynamic and hard-driving entrepreneur, who decided to try his hand in the ceramic sector by establishing Carani & Giglioli in partnership with Guido Giglioli. He was to embark upon many other activities during those years, always with Giglioli: a brickworks in Baggiovara, ISMA (Industria Sassolese Macchine Agricole - Agricultural Machinery) and ILPAS (Industria Lavorazione Pavimenti Affini Sassuolo - Floor cladding products and similar) in Sassuolo. In 1930, he opened the famous Carani theatre-cinema in Viale XX Settembre along with his cousin Mario. He founded the SACES ceramic works in 1935. After the Second World War, untiring, he dedicated his attention to new businesses until his death in 1963.

Panel 22

Ceramica Carani & Giglioli. The ceramic works moves to Reggio Emilia

Thanks to the waters of the Reggio Canal, a brickworks, a spinnery, cloth-fulling enterprises, blacksmiths, carpenters and even an oil mill had all been able to flourish during the last centuries on the Reggio Emilia bank of the river Secchia, in Veggia di Casalgrande. Here, in 1911, brickworks owner Eugenio Carani (whose family also possessed brickworks in Fiorano and Sassuolo) opened a tile-manufacturing business with cheese merchant Guido Giglioli. Water from the river also allowed them to produce the electricity required for the factory, while the nearby Sassuolo-Reggio Emilia railway line facilitated the carriage of goods. The First World War hindered the development of the company, which was only really able to take off in the 1920s. By virtue of the colours of their glazes and decorations, and the elegance of their designs, Carani & Giglioli tiles were on the same level as the very highest artistic and aesthetic experiences of the early 1900s.

Panel 23

Industria Ceramica Veggia invents KerVit, the model for thin tiles

Industria Ceramica Veggia was established on 31 March 1931 for the purpose of manufacturing and marketing terracotta, glazed tiles and similar, having taken over from Carani & Giglioli. The general partner was Eugenio Carani, son of Egidio. In 1937, the enterprise turned into a joint-stock company called Società Anonima Industria Ceramica Veggia. The administrative offices remained in Sassuolo, in Piazzale Teggia 16, while the headquarters was transferred to Milan. Ceramica Veggia continued the technological and product innovations which had previously been conducted by Carani & Giglioli. Based on a patent registered by Antonio Dal Borgo and Maurizio Korach, Vitral and later KerVit, became the flagship product of the company. An extremely thin tile obtained by casting, a forerunner of today’s ultra-thin tiles, was the result.
“Ceramic? It was all dust and clatter!” This phrase gives a very clear insight into the working conditions in the factories of those first decades.

Panel 24

KerVit, a pioneering product

Ceramica Veggia created KerVit back in the 1930s. It was used to produce an innovative tile: lightweight, thin and glossy, suitable for building and architecture. A variant, KerVes, was also produced for outdoor use. It was short-lived on the market owing to fixing problems (suitable adhesives were not yet available) and because Dal Borgo, the inventor, refused to share the patent. From 1948 to 1961 it was used for 7.5x15 cm strip tiles, then square and mosaic sizes. The material was ideal for ceramic litho decoration and was employed for advertising purposes: the depictions of Il Duce and Matteotti applied using the stencil technique are of particular interest.

Panel 27

Fabbrica della Terra Rossa changes hands

Operative as long ago as 1788, the Fabbrica della Terra Rossa, or Fabbrica di via Lea, experienced, in 1910, the same difficulties as Fabbrica Rubbiani of Via Cavallotti. The company was revived by a group formed by the Rubbiani family itself, together with the Dieci and Bertoli families, and began to produce tiles anew. It changed hands again in 1926 when Guido Siliprandi, an engineer from Modena, took over and added improvements and developments. In the 1930s, the production facilities were moved to a new, modern factory near the two railway stations in Via Radici in Piano, in Sassuolo. To help support the financial outlay, the Gambigliani Zoccoli family of Modena had become a partner and at the same time, in 1938, the company name was changed to SAIME (Società Anonima Industria Materiali Edili). It is not clear how and why it happened, but Guido Siliprandi left the company at a certain point, so much so that at the beginning of the 1950s, he was known to be working at Ceramica Marca Corona.

Panel 28

Stabilimento Ceramico Ing. Guido Siliprandi

The new tile for interior and exterior architecture was developed at the end of the 1800s - early 1900s when the processes were mechanized and the products could be manufactured in a constant series. But the innovations were especially driven by input provided by the international trends that enterprises exhibited at world expositions, with their catalogues, sample collections, models, terminology, technical specifications and, last but by no means least, their quality. It was not difficult to attract attention: a refined floral design, vintage patterns redesigned to create coordinated wall tiles and the tile panel as pictorial painting. Much of the production was standard, like the wall plaques and house number plates - a hark back to the artisanal creations of a bygone age. Chasing around to acquire certificates of attendance, diplomas and acknowledgements was very much in vogue. A closely knit task group comprising technicians and workers - better if they lived together near the factories - could also dictate the success of a business.

Panel 29

Tile decoration and patterns

“Seamless” patterns formed by several tiles were rare, but nevertheless one of the first types of decoration. Modularity was present in the composition, completed by modelled tiles along the edges or “feather-edging” with bevelled corners pointing up. The decorative motifs were mostly repetitive. A vertical longitudinal orientation was preferred for wall cladding, with the top and bottom being occasionally symmetrical. A diagonal pattern using tiles with geometric designs was used predominantly for floors where identical modules created a tessellated surface.

Panel 30

From the old “Terra Rossa” to the new SAIME

“A new factory, ultra-modern as to installations and buildings, remarkably well equipped (...) has been built near the railway line, alongside the road leading to Modena. This factory is SAIME, Società Anonima Industria Materiali Edili.” That, ever since 1938, has been the name of Ing. Guido Siliprandi, the company established in 1934 by conveyance of Fabbrica della Terra Rossa di Via Lea. Engineer Leone Padoa played an important role in the management of SAIME and in the technical developments, especially of the kilns. Jewish, he was forced to escape to the Apennines in 1943.

Panel 31

From ILPAS wood to SACES tiles

Eugenio Carani and Guido Giglioli had opened, in Via Mazzini, Sassuolo, a factory called ILPAS (Industria Lavorazioni Pavimenti e Affini Sassuolo) which manufactured floor cladding and other wooden products for the building trade. Between the years 1935 and 1941, this business was replaced, by Eugenio Carani alone, by a ceramic works called SACES (Società Anonima Carani Eugenio Sassuolo) which employed trained personnel from other ceramic factories. The 18-chamber Hoffmann kiln fired 100,000 tiles using wood for fuel, but also almond and walnut shells or rice husks. The glazed tiles took about eight hours to fire in 5 tubular kilns with 75 chambers where the tiles were positioned and removed entirely by hand by the workers, thus with great discomfort owing to the intense heat. But nearly all the tasks, from neatening the tile edges to sorting and boxing, were done by hand. SACES was heavily bombed during the Second World War but resumed business again in the post-war period by experimenting with the new tunnel kiln technology, at the same time as Marca Corona.

Panel 33

Filippo Marazzi, from grocer to “kiln-man”

Filippo Marazzi was born in 1874. His father Pietro had left his native village of Indovero (Lecco) and had moved to Sassuolo, where he made wrought copper boilers for dairies. After having worked as a shop boy, Filippo was sent to Abyssinia and was one of the few soldiers who survived the massacre of Adua (1896). After returning home he, and two of his five brothers, purchased the grocery in Piazza Garibaldi, Sassuolo, from the Muggia family. He was mayor of Castellarano from 1951 to 1954. The grocery-distillery was subsequently sold to the Roteglia family and in 1934, at sixty years of age, Filippo embarked upon a new industrial adventure. He built his own tile and brick works in a field he owned in the northern outskirts of Sassuolo with the help of a few workmen. The trusses and metal sheets of the roof rested on rows of poplar trees cut down to four metres from ground level. Thus, the construction that would be known locally as the “Cardboard Factory” was created. But Filippo installed modern equipment inside. Within two years, he had switched to manufacturing ceramic and it was not long before he was employing about one hundred workers.

Panel 35

After bricks, the first Marazzi tiles

The exhibition also contains rare examples of bricks, roof tiles and plates bearing the Filippo Marazzi mark. Those bricks and tiles for building bear witness to the close bond that exists between such products and decorative tiles, all thanks to the labours of those kiln-men who, when they do not limit themselves to providing capital, turn into ceramist entrepreneurs. Also on show are the first type of ceramic tiles produced by Marazzi using the modern Hoffmann kilns for the first firing process and tubular kilns for the glazed product. After bricks, tiles for building purposes and plates, the company went on to include house number plaques and sacred images in their product range. Right from the start, a certain bond was evident between Filippo, who was strongly religious, and religious subjects - especially Our Lady, whose symbols have always been present in the company emblem since the second post war period. The Marazzi tile works also experimented with images of Il Duce, creating artistically commendable examples in line with the trends of that historical and political context.