The phrase ‘art pottery’ usually conjures up the image of a lone creative working in a small studio, not a major factory with a global profile. But Italian ceramics manufacturer Bitossi has succeeded in uniting artistry with commercial success. It’s best known for its mid-century output, notably the ‘Rimini Blu’ series of vases and figurines in vibrant electric blue, but its roots go all the way back to the Renaissance.
When Guido Bitossi founded the brand in 1921, his family were already part of a centuries-old ceramics tradition. Bitossi ancestors had been kiln workers, sculptors, painters and potters in Montelupo Fiorentino, near Florence, since the 1530s. The area was one of Italy’s most important centres for pottery, primarily tin-glazed maiolica painted with bright patterns. Indeed, the Bitossi factory was initially known as ‘Maioliche artistiche Guido Bitossi’, and it capitalised on its regional heritage early on.
It was Guido’s four sons, Vittoriano, Marcello, Mario and Carlo, who, with the help of ceramicist Aldo Londi, transformed Bitossi into a contemporary design force during the post-war period.
Londi was a Montelupo native and precocious talent who indulged his passion for ceramics at the local factory in the evenings after school. Aged 11, he became an apprentice at the Fratelli Fanciullacci pottery. On becoming Bitossi’s artistic director in 1946 – a relationship that would last over 50 years – he balanced his twin ideals of craftsmanship and innovation. The objects he designed served as companions in the modern home, embodying his belief that art should be a constant presence in everyday life.
Inspired by everything from ancient Etruscan crafts to Picasso’s pottery, Londi incorporated elements of sculpture and painting in his work, putting faces on mugs and vases and making stylised, quirky figurines of animals and birds. He also made Bitossi famous for colourful glazes: the ‘Rimini Blu’ range was created with the local Colorobbia chemical factory, and was also issued in other bright hues, including red and green.
Londi spearheaded Bitossi’s tradition of working with artists and designers. In the mid-1950s, he introduced the architect Ettore Sottsass to ceramics, and together the pair refined the idea of pottery as sculpture for the home.
Sottsass’s geometric bowls and vases, which are still available to buy, fuse the decorative with the functional – a custom that continues to lend the brand a contemporary edge under the guidance of Vittoriano Bitossi’s niece, Ginevra Bocini, its current CEO. Recent launches include French artist Pierre Marie’s tableware and vases inspired by historical pieces in Bitossi’s archive, as well as studio Formafantasma’s vases featuring raw, torn edges.
In 1983, Londi and Sottsass collaborated to launch Montelupo’s Museum of Ceramics, an achievement that’s now been followed with Bitossi’s own Archive Museum nearby. Opened in its centenary year, the venue presents a retrospective of a brand that, in Bocini Bitossi’s words, ‘tells the story of Italian design through ceramics, and never ceases to question the future shape of things’. bitossiceramiche.it; fondazionevittorianobitossi.it