They are everywhere on the creations of Dolce&Gabbana’s SS13 collection that was presented today in Milan, but they have come a long way. Swide tells you the story of these beautiful artefacts.
You might have seen them in some villa or restaurant or hotel in Sicily, dominating the table: colourful head-shaped ceramic vases filled with beautiful flowers. But like many things in Italy, they are more than what they seem.
The head is inspired by Moorish features. Moorish is a term used to define many peoples throughout history. Medieval and early modern Europeans applied the name to the Berbers, Arabs, Muslim Iberians and West Africans, although it has to be said that the term 'Moorish' has no real ethnological value. In Sicily’s case it defines the conquerors of Sicily. The first Muslim conquest of southern Italy lasted 75 years, from 827 to 902 AD.
These objects are now made of a special kind of ceramic called Maiolica, an Italian tin-glazed pottery that dates back to Renaissance times. It is decorated with bright colours with a white background.
The ceramic in Caltagirone has tradition going back a thousands of years and is profoundly connected to Sicily’s history: archaeological finds of local ceramic date back to the 6th Millennium BC. Around 1000 BC artisans from Caltagirone began to use the of turning of a lathe thanks to the commercial connections with Crete, Greece, where it was common practice. During Arabic rule of Sicily (that as we said started in 827AD), Sicily came in contact with an Arab technique called “invetriatura”, a technique that made ceramic weather-repellent (and therefore much more resistant). Once absorbed by Sicily this technique was then introduced to the rest of Italy. The oldest kinds of “proto” Maioliche (a primitive version of Maioliche) are to be found in Caltagirone Ceramic Museum and in the Archeological Museum of Gela.
Maioliche were then painted different colours displaying symbols of stories and legends from each town (like oranges, lemons…), making each one of these objects a unique piece of history and art.
Behind the Moor's head vases there is a legend that is as interesting as its real history: they say that around 1100 AD, when Sicily was ruled by the Moors, a beautiful girl was living in seclusion and spent her days cultivating flowers on her balcony. One day a young Moor passing by saw her, decided he had to have her and entered the house so to declare his love. The young girl, surprised by such a gesture, reciprocated him, but just when she got to know him he had to return to where he came from, to his wife and children, she waited for the night to come and as he fell asleep she cut off his head and used it as a vase for her flowers and put it on her balcony displaying it to everyone. This way his love was forever hers. Since then, flowers grew lush in the vase and the neighbours, envious, built vases shaped like a Moor's head.
Written by Elisa della Barba