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The Furnaces of the Middle Ages

The development of techniques for making jars

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In the 16th century the relationship between the Florentine market and the Impruneta kilns became even more important, and while production of manufactured objects for household use (“mezzine” and basins) diminished, the production of jars for the storage of olive oil, “orci”, increased. Terracotta objects for the garden, specially large plant-pots, were also manufactured here. The evolution of agriculture in Tuscany, particularly the increase in cultivation of olive trees (due to the spread of sharecropping and the setting-up of farms), responsible for the growing importance of olive oil jars, determined also a progressive change in their shape.

The need to store a larger quantity of oil meant an increase in the size of these jars, both in height and diameter. Between the 16th and 17th centuries these “orci” acquired a growing impressive appearance which created no small difficulty in manufacturing techniques. The great skill kiln owners showed in transforming their products and the superior quality of local clay, rendering these jars more beautiful and long-lasting than those from other production centres, put the final seal on the success of Impruneta earthenware production.

The dynasties of kiln owners
A first attempt to reconstruct the families of these kiln owners shows the establishment of true and proper dynasties of potters who continued to join the Casini, Boncioli and Brandi families, for whom documents have been found which can be dated back to the 14th and 15th centuries. In many cases an expansion of different branches of the same family is recorded, which may be found to lead back to the roots of the same family tree after some research in history. Thus in the 16th century the first of these “same surnames” such as Cicali, Codacci and Falciani (altogether the most numerous) begin to appear, and Vantini, while in the following century other names appear such as Lottini, Poggi, Scacciati, Soderi and Vanni. Finally, in the 18th century we can follow the family history of the Agresti, Montauti-Danti and the Ricceri.

From the Modern Era to our day
Between the 17th and 18th centuries Impruneta kiln owners knew how to vary their activity even further by adding, with or without the help of engobing, a lead glaze on that clay which was very durable but which did not lend itself easily to any kind of coating. The Inquiry of the Grand Duke in 1768 reveals that between 1764 and 1768, each year at least 736 oil jars were produced, over 500 “plant and flower pots”, 700 basins and as many large plant-pots, as well as about 120 bases for “lemon trees” and at least 6 statues in terracotta.

The 19th century was a time of considerable growth for Impruneta terracotta, with new dynasties of kiln owners emerging (Parenti, Manetti, Nistri, Malavolti and Bianchi) and with the beginning of mechanization which affected, above all, the manufacture of bricks and tiles. At the beginning of the “industrial takeoff” in Italy in 1881, there were 22 terracotta factories in Impruneta and the most important was that of the Agresti family. The success of these kilns saw no drawbacks, not even in the last century and at present is enjoying renewed success, both with regard to traditional products as well as new inventions.

First inhabited during the Etruscan and Roman periods, Impruneta is a town on the outskirts of Florence, characterised by the direct contact with the countryside in which it is immersed. To some extent, the description given by Giovan Battista Casotti in 1714 is still relevant today: “Impruneta is a collection of twelve little villages, situated in close distance to one another, or to put in ...