In Deruta, Maiolica Splendors in the Church of San Francesco
Perched on a hill not far south of Perugia, the fortified castle Deruta received important privileges – including the right to have its own podesta (mayor) – from Emperor Hentry VI in the late 12th-century.About that time, the ceramic production of this castle was beginning to flourish and as of 1277, we find documents confirming the purchase of clay objects ad modum matonum de Dirupta (“made in the Deruta way”). As of 1287, i vasai (potters) form corporazioni (guilds) and are allowed sale of their products by the city magistrates.
Initially, production was mostly in simple terracotta for domestic use and a document of 1290 confirms the furnishing of domestic pottery objects to the Franciscan monastery of Deruta (dating to the 11th-century and perhaps a Benedictine monastery, then conceded to one of San Francesco’s first followers, Brother Egidio).
That convento (“monastery”) has recently been restored and is now seat of the Museo Regionale della Ceramica di Deruta housing over 5000 maiolica treasures.
One of the most exquisite artifacts is a section of the floor of the adjacent Church of San Francesco: 200 maiolica tiles made in 1425. The tiles were originally created for another church, transferred to the Church of San Francesco in the 18th-century and found under another pavement in 1902 during restoration in the church:
A recreation of a section of the floor adorns the wall of a Deruta home:
Deruta is a veritable hymn to maiolica, after all – with maiolica touches on homes and shops throughout the town:
And after your visit to the Museo Regionale della Ceramica, you’ll pass a maiolica crucifix at the base of the medieval bell tower as you head from the former Franciscan convento housing the museum to the adjacent San Francesco church:
Made for San Francesco belltower in 1946, the maiolica artist painted the Francis’ greeting “pax et bonum” (“peace and good”) at the base of the crucifix:
San Francesco appears inside his church, too…..
….. in a maiolica relief just to the left as you enter:
St. Francis extends his hands – with wounds of the stigmata – to the Virgin as another Franciscan saint (of the 15th century), Bernardino di Siena, prays on the other side of the throne. The inscription in the arch, fanning out over the Virgin, tells us that he maiolica panel was created in 1988 for this Franciscan church dedicated to Santa Maria dei Consoli as commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the consecration of the restored church (in 1388) following a violent earthquake causing collapse of the vault in the early 14th-century. The Franciscanchurch was also known as “Santa Maria della Piazza dei Consoli” as the church is very near the main square and the civic building where the town consoli carried out their civic duties.
That panel was probably inspired by a mid-15th century painting once in this church by Foligno artist, Nicolo’ Alunno, dedicated to la Madonna dei Consoli and now in the Deruta Pinacoteca (Civic Picture Gallery).The two Franciscan saints, St. Francis and St. Bernardino da Siena, flank the Virgin, with Francis’ gesture indicating to the Virgin the patron who had paid for the painting:
And incidentally, another treasure from this church is to be seen in the Pinacoteca: the 13th-century missale fratrum minorum, that is a missal of the Franciscans of Deruta indicating the important festivities associated with the order, the pages illustrated with exquisite illuminated letters:
Not far from the maiolica relief at the entrance, an elegant image of the patron of ceramicists, St. Catherine of Alexandria, early 4th-century martyr, shows the saint holding the wheel, symbol of her martyrdom – and linked to the potters’ wheel. A maiolica vase at her feet, the saint stands above a depiction of Deruta in this early 20th-century maiolica shrine:
Fragments of 14th-century frescoes on the church walls depict scenes of her martyrdom…
…as well as Santa Caterina d’Alessandria near San Francesco who is showing us signs of his stigmata:
Across the nave in the mid-19th-century Cappella del Rosario (Chapel of the Rosary) maiolica reigns, both on the wall plaque beneath the statue of la Madonna del Rosario and on the altar frontpiece:
In a niche behind the altar, the statue of la Madonna holding a rosary…
…..stands above panels designed by various Deruta maiolica masters depicting episodes of the mysteries of the rosary, each panel signed:
The altar frontispiece dates to 1890 and is a fine work by the doctor-turned-maiolica-master, Angelo Michelletti of Deruta:
Various maiolica ex-voto (literally, “out of a vow,” i.e, for a prayer or vow answered) images were also once part of the spiritual decor of this church. The ex-voto images were commissioned as thank for a favor received, a prayer answered. A few 18th-century ones from this church are in the adjacent maiolica museum.
One ex-voto image thanks the Virgin and Child for having escaped an accidental shooting and the other thanks them for having avoided injury from a fall from a horse..
For the derutesi, this Church of San Francesco is the equivalent of a cathedral and focal point of all the most important liturgies throughout the year.
And as you enter Deruta, fine maiolica panels welcome you depicting the beloved San Francesco and Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, patron saint of Deruta.
San Francesco has his hand upraised in a welcoming gesture, backdropped by the Basilica di Francesco in Assisi (where he was buried in the early 13th-century) off to the left and also by Deruta (on the right):
Santa Caterina’s image reproduces the maiolica panel in the Church of San Francesco and here, too, Deruta is in the background as well as the rolling hills of Umbria:.
Yes, maiolica creations adorn Deruta’s Church of San Francisco. And they greet you as soon as you arrive in this Umbrian hill-town of many splendors
Read about the maiolica folk art splendors just outside of Deruta