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    Biografia  |  The shining technique  

Mastro Giorgio is one of the most famous eugubinian personalities in the world, a real artistic pride of our city. From Paris to London, from New York to Pesaro, from St. Petersburg to Rotterdam, whoever can admire the works of this great master. In many parts of the world, in fact, you can appreciate the perfection of his works even more than in Gubbio (it's enough to say that in his hometown there are in permanent exhibition only few of the 600, 700 works of his whole production).

Many people have tried to follow his footsteps and recreate his shining technique, full of secrets, which had made him famous for the ceramic art, a technique, the secrets of which he took away with him in his tombstone.


Giorgio Andreoli, better known as "Mastro Giorgio", was born in Intra (presently called Verbania, on the Maggiore lake) round about the year 1465-70 and died in Gubbio in 1555. His long activity as a potter was totally developed in Gubbio with his brothers Salimbene and Giovanni, who all three moved to Gubbio in about 1490.
Thanks to the prosperity of their work, Giorgio and his brothers bought land, houses and a shop in the quarter of "St. Andrea". From this, according to the historical eugubinian, Giuseppe Mazzatinti, the surname "Andreoli" is derived, which never appeared in acts before 1523.
The year after, in 1498, mastro Giorgio asked for and obtained eugubinian citizenship for himself and his brothers, Giovanni and Salimbene, later renewed in 1519 by Pope Leone X without time limits, due to "their excellence in majolic art, and nobody reached their high level of quality", and "for the honour that the city, the Lord and the commune of Gubbio received in all the Nations where the pottery was taken from his factory and for the great earning and utility of the customs."
In 1525 Giorgio associates himself with a painter of Casteldurante (Giovanni Luca) to ask him to paint vases, on which he applied the "reflections", and called another master (Federico) from Urbino, who made vases "Bene et fideliter" (well and exactly).
In 1536 he separated from his brothers' inheritants (Salimbene died before 1523, Giovanni in 1535) and from that year the shop was run by his sons Vincenzo (Cencio) and Ubaldo, even if his activity didn't cease until about 1541.
In 1547 the two brothers, with the permission of their father and with the specific contract, formed a society among themselves for art practice in their father's shop: Cencio assumed the job of the manufacturing of all kinds of vases, Ubaldo that of painting them and having them painted, also to complete the vases painted with majolics, with gold colour, violet, mother of pearl finishing, ruby red, a colour which only Mastro Giorgio had created. Therefore often on the same work of art you could find the signature of the artist who painted it, as well as the eugubinian master who finished off the work of art with the shining finish. Therefore often on the same work of art we find both the signature of the artist who painted it and that of the eugubinian master who finished off the work with the shining effect.
The first phase of Mastro Giorgio's artistic activity if unknown. The most antique work of art known today, edged off with shiny red ruby and gold, is a plate dated back to 1515 conserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum of London; other sure pieces are dated back to 1518, signed and marked by the eugubinian master at the back of the work (sometimes with M G, sometimes with the whole name followed by the date or by the words "in Ugubio").
We can't strictly affirm that Giorgio found new decorative compositions. Long since his workshop followed ornamental schemes used in Deruta; then (in about 1525) those of Faenza and Casteldurante, and finally (1530) those of Urbino.
During his activity Mastro Giorgio produced simpler and less appreciated works, and in certain works he was helped by other artists of the area. But his fame remained unchanged with time, and in 1911 an english collectionist paid 2520 pounds for a signed plate dated back to 1522.
The secret of the chemical process which made the eugubinian potter so famous, which seemed to be lost, was partially rediscovered amd used on enamel and painted ceramics at the half of the XIX century.

 The shining technique

The shining technique, or as they called it in the 500's, of the majolics (from the island of Majorca), can be considered the emblem of the artistic career of Mastro Giorgio.
It was a type of decoration which you can obtain on an object already glassified and baked, and consists of the application of a fine film of metallic parts which due to a process of chemical reduction obtained in the oven, create reflections of various colours depending on the type of metal used.

This was maybe derived from antique arab techniques, brought to Italy by spanish merchants in the 1400, or by italian artists gone to Spain to learn it more in detail. In our peninsula the shine effect was actuated in the XVI century only in Gubbio and Deruta, where objects painted by other artists were also made
The technique, partly revealed by Mastro Cencio (Giorgio's second son), to Cavalier Cipriano Piccolpasso at the end of 1500, was reused in Gubbio in the second half of the year 1800,(especially that of ruby red), almost because of nostalgia of an art which Mastro Giorgio had taked away with him.
Piccolpasso talks about the shining technique in his book "Book on the art of pottery", but even if he gives the doses of the materials of the "red and gold of majolics", he only describes the procedure of the second colour, which was already known in the past, while the procedure of the red remains a secret.
This technique was called "shining mixture" because of the mixture of its components. The metallic salts, which are responsible for the shining effect after the baking, are then added to the clay and ochre (iron oxide), and all this is amalgamated with vinegar. The clay which can be white or red, has the function of "eccipiente" and is used to join the metallic parts. The ochre, yellow or red, serves as colourant. The vinegar is used to unite the ingredients and make it liquid, in order to use it with a paint brush.
This shining mixture is spread with a paint brush on the edging areas specifically left free, or on open spaces, or on top of bottom paintings.
Once the objects were painted with the shining effect, they were baked for the second time: placed in a way to protect them from the flames, but they had to be touched by the smoke, to avoid the oxidation of the metallic parts of the mixture ( the smoke in the oven removed the oxygen, which was responsible for the oxidation).
After the second baking, the works were cleaned in water and ash, then shone up, more precise and accurately, with a woolen cloth and dry ash.
At this point the work was completed and ready to be admired by its creator, by its disciples, and by the buyers, who with the passing of time would have let them go right around the world.

Today, a School in Gubbio is dedicated to Mastro Giorgio:
Intermediate State School "Mastro Giorgio"
Via Perugina
06024 Gubbio (PG)

Di Riccardo Ruspi