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Between Court and Factory: the story of Sassuolo ceramic

For the first time ever, Ceramiche Marca Corona is exhibiting more than 250 unique pieces from the Villa Vigarani Guastalla collection to the greater public.

Marca Corona is proud to present Between Court and Factory: the story of Sassuolo ceramic, the permanent exhibition dedicated to the Villa Vigarani Guastalla collection, promoted in partnership with Gallerie Estensi in Modena, and hosted at the Doge’s Palace in Sassuolo. From 24th July 2020, the day of the official inauguration, and for the next 5 years, the precious Exhibition will be accessible free of charge to the citizens of Sassuolo and all international visitors wishing to retrace the evolution of ceramic production in the district and the story of Marca Corona, from 1741 until the turn of the 20th Century.

The acquisition of the Villa Vigarani Guastalla collection by Marca Corona is the result of the desire to enhance the value of Sassuolo’s ceramic heritage, a commitment already undertaken with the inauguration of the “Marca Corona GalleryCompany Museum in 2010, and strengthened by the constant promotion of local ceramic culture.

Exhibition rooms dedicated to the Exhibition "Between Court and Factory" at the Doge’s Palace in Sassuolo

The collection on exhibit in the Doge’s Palace, resulting from the pioneering spirit of the ceramic tile entrepreneur and collector Villiam Tioli and the contribution of the scholar Francesco Liverani, includes unique, high-value pieces, which represent the local majolica production, spearheaded by Marca Corona. With this artistic acquisition, Marca Corona was able to pool together a large number of pieces belonging to its own history, which now supplement the collection of objects housed inside the Company Museum, thereby creating an ideal journey between Court and Factory and providing a comprehensive overview of the history of the ceramic tile district, and of the Marca Corona brand.

Opening of the "Between Court and Factory" Exhibition

“The dual journey Between Court and Factory allows the public to get an in-depth and comprehensive view of the history of our district, combining a corporate genetic heritage with a private collection which represents the local production. Our late chairman Professor Cirillo Mussini, promoter of the Company Museum which was dedicated to him, would be proud of this initiative which enriches the historic value of our collection and further strengthens the partnership between Marca Corona and the local territory” declared Lelio Poncemi, Managing Director of Ceramiche Marca Corona, who attended the Inauguration event that took place on 24th July 2020 in the presence of Local Authorities.


The exhibition consists of over 250 unique pieces, created between the middle of the 18th Century and the early 20th Century by the finest craftsmen in Sassuolo and the surrounding area. Within the exhibition, these relics have become genuine narrative objects, told through the words of the characters of the time and compared with everyday objects, in a constant dialogue between past and present, to discover the stories of ceramic in the local territory.


In 1741 a group of private individuals from Sassuolo set up a Company to open a “Majolica Factory”, exploiting an existing plant situated in the Town’s district along Modena Canal. Duke Francesco III d'Este granted them monopoly to produce “Ordinary white and painted Majolica”, but the enterprise was quickly sold to Giovanni Maria Dallari. A pragmatic man, he introduced some improvements to speed up the processing and called in workers from Imola and Lodi, custodians of “the special secret of white and paint…”. The duke renewed the privilege, despite the legal proceedings taken by other competing entrepreneurs, and allowed the factory to achieve outstanding commercial outcomes and an artistic originality on a par with the finest manufacturing on the Peninsula. Giovanni Maria called his son Giovanni beside him, who in turn welcomed his painter friend Pietro Lei, who became famous for his activities in Pesaro, Leopoldo Finck, a ceramic artist from Vienna who moved to Bologna, and other cutting-edge international ceramic artists.

However, in 1782 Pietro Lei decided to open a “New factory” of common earthenware, forcing the Dallari family to change the name of their plant to “Old Factory”. When Giovanni Maria died, the manufacturing passed on to his son Giovanni. In 1791 the ducal government revoked the exclusivity, causing a crisis in the Factory, despite Giovanni’s efforts, as he was worried about what would become of his sons Onorio, Costanzo and Odoardo. In 1815, right in the middle of the Napoleonic era, the return to Modena of the Archduke of Austria d’Este meant the Dallari family hoped for the return of their old privileges, which were in fact granted, albeit with many restrictions. Despite the quality of the products, the Factory was unable to recover and many workers and painters decided to move to nearby manufacturers, taking their know-how with them.

In 1835 count Giovanni Francesco Maria Ferrari Moreni, the owner of Sassuolo Mill, a neighbour of the Dallari family and Chamberlain of the Court, making the most of the pre-emption right, purchased the Old Factory, now collapsed, from the brothers Odoardo and Costanzo.


Between 1836 and 1854 the “Old Factory” passed on - in far from rosy financial conditions and deep in debt - to Count Gio Francesco Ferrari Moreni, the leading exponent of Modena’s nobility and of the Archducal Court.

The production of the Sassuolo manufacturing firm, which in the meantime had also extended to earthenware, was at its all-time low despite the quality and sophisticated taste, close to that of the Court, as testified by the tributes paid to count Giacobazzi by Costanzo Dallari. Sassuolo too, no longer a seat of the Court, was in crisis. The former Doge’s Palace, confiscated by the French at the end of the 17th Century and sold at auction, was in the hands of a family of French nobility, the d’Espagnac, who began the transformation of the extensive grounds into an agricultural estate.

Gio. Francesco however demonstrated a spirit of great enterprise and flair in his production and artistic choices, calling in modellers and painters trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Modena and offering innovative bodies, among the best in Italy. The same applied to glazes, especially white, which was famous and appreciated for its gleam, due to the quality of the lead used. The catalogue, the first printed one produced in Sassuolo, presented simple and stylish products, inspired by 18th Century English or Venetian fashion trends in the decorations and tastes of the Modena Court in terms of colours, prevalently blue and white. The products were marked while unfired and the most elaborate pieces were made in earthenware. Trade nonetheless remained restricted solely to the area of the duchy.

In 1851 the count was elected Podestà (similar to Mayor) of Modena, thereby having to detach himself from his interests in Sassuolo and renting, then subsequently selling, the Factory to Giovanni Maria Rubbiani, a shrewd local entrepreneur.


Between 1847 and 1854, the last years of the Austro-Estense duchy, the two majolica and earthenware factories passed onto the ownership of the enterprising ceramic artist Giovanni Maria Rubbiani. Rubbiani allowed the “talented painter”, subsequently factory director, Domenico Bagnoli (1824-1889), and his sculptor son, Luigi, to guide a bold change in direction of production.

Sassuolo ceramics excelled at provincial, regional, national and universal exhibitions in the early decades of the new Italian State. The catalogue included decorations inspired by Oriental and Grotesque tastes, New-Renaissance historiated paintings and romantic themes.

In 1856 Giovanni Maria decided to share his assets among his sons, entrusting the eldest Carlo with the Old Factory, which went on to become the “Carlo Rubbiani Factory”, and don Antonio with running the “Terra Rossa (Red Soil) Factory”. The brothers, who were also engaged on a social and political level, took steps to improve production and the working conditions of the workers. They committed to training their workers and, keen on the artistic side, organised lively workshops with international artists, thus opening up the factory to the ideas of beauty and more innovative technologies.

On Carlo’s death in 1891, the Sassuolo Factory was a company at the cutting edge, which also produced road plaques and floor and wall tiles made using the revolutionary method of dry pressing, which made it possible to reduce drying times and limit distortion during the firing process.

Among the first in Italy to mass produce tiles, thanks to the creativity of Carlo Casaltoli, the Rubbiani family used them as a decorative element, for instance in the Rubbiani Tomb at the San Prospero Monumental Cemetery in Sassuolo.

The National Ceramic and Glass Art Exhibition in Rome in 1889 constituted the first public presentation of the innovative tiles: the dry pressing process raised quite a few eyebrows, and the “essay on majolica tiles” made other producers quite suspicious. Nevertheless, this is the very product which marked the industrial cornerstone.

Among the many manufactured articles on exhibit, there are certain pieces of particular historical and artistic interest, such as the Pezzetta da Maiolica, the Marescialla, the Set di zuppiere e rinfrescatoio, the Veilleuse and the Grande vaso ornamentale Casaltoli-Barberini: emblematic objects of a story, between Court and Factory, which began in 1741.

Pezzetta da Maiolica, Tile from 1753, similar to the wall tiles on the stacks of the Doge’s Palace

The Pezzetta da Maiolica, or little piece of majolica, is the first piece on exhibit and it brings to mind and explains the title of the exhibition in itself: made in 1753, this tile replicates the same decorations found on the ceramic tiles which coat the stacks of the Doge’s Palace. It constitutes the most evident symbol of the relationship between the Doge’s Court and the Dallari Factory, as well as a vital element in the history of the district: this particular object was in fact the first manufactured article to document the close commissioning relationship which tied the court of Francesco III d’Este to Giovanni Maria Dallari’s Factory, to whom the duchy granted production and sales monopoly, permitting him to apply the ducal crest onto the Factory’s products.


The Marescialla, or marshal, is a large platter with “fin-like” handles decorated by Pietro Lei during the second half of the 18th Century for the Dallari Factory. The famous artist stands out for the great elegance, meticulousness and thoroughness used to apply pigments. Born in Sassuolo, after a period of time away, he returned to Sassuolo in 1782 in the employ of the Dallari family, where he had already been an apprentice, bringing with him a breath of renewed shapes, decorations and technologies. He then decided to set up his own business, opening up in Contrada Lei a “red earthenware” factory, and then went on to cover several public charges. His precious works are kept in several private collections, in national and European galleries and museums.

Marescialla, vase decorated by the artist Pietro during the second half of the 18th Century

The set of soup tureens and tabletop cooler was made during the second half of the 18th Century and includes tableware decorated with embossed floral motifs rich in colours, in keeping with the most refined models of 18th Century silverware. It is one of the finest productions by Giovanni Dallari, son of the pioneer Gian Maria, notary, skilled ceramic artist, poet and comedy writer, but also politician. The large tabletop cooler, predecessor of the modern ice bucket, was filled with ice, snow or cold water, to keep wine bottles cool.

Set of soup tureens and tabletop cooler - made by Giovanni Dallari during the second half of the 18th Century

From the French word Veilleuse, the night light is an apparently simple yet complex object. Made during the second quarter of the 19th Century by the Ferrari Moreni Factory, the Night light in fact had a dual purpose: to cast a weak reading light at night and also to keep a herbal tea or hot drink warm. The light is richly decorated with blue and white motifs, in colours that were typical of Modena restoration production.

Veilleuse, night light from the second quarter of the 19th Century, made by the Ferrari Moreni Factory
Large ornamental vase, decorated by the painters Barberini and Casaltoli during the last quarter of the 19th Century for the Carlo Rubbiani Factory

The large ornamental Casaltoli-Barberini vase is a unique piece, which represents the rich production of the talented modeller/painter from Modena Silvestro Barberini in association with the Florentine painter Carlo Casaltoli. Both called upon to work for the Carlo Rubbiani Factory during the last quarter of the 19th Century, they were the authors of some of the finest manufactured articles produced in Sassuolo of that time.

The collection on exhibit at the Doge’s Palace consists of multiple other unique unmissable pieces, an artistic heritage of inestimable value which Marca Corona wanted to place at the disposal of the citizens and the many international visitors to show the excellence of local ceramic production and hand down the values and passion of the Sassuolo district.

Putting together the “Between Court and Factory” Exhibition required a thorough and delicate task of reorganising, cataloguing, preparing and handling the many relics contained in the Villa Vigarani Guastalla Collection. Below are some photos of the official inauguration with some of the key moments backstage and during set-up.

This exhibition would not have been possible without the contribution of Gallerie Estensi and without the hospitality of the Doge’s Palace in Sassuolo, who decided to open two rooms free of charge to private individuals, families, collectors, and fans in the field and all local aficionados.

We invite you to visit the Exhibition, during the opening hours specified below, to make the most of a precious opportunity to discover local art and culture.

The Doge’s Palace in Sassuolo - Opening hours from 01st April until 30th November 2020:

  • from Tuesday to Sunday, on work days or national holidays: from 10 am to 1 pm and from 3 to 7 pm;

  • on working Mondays: closed to the public;

  • on bank holiday Mondays: from 10 am to 1 pm and from 3 to 7 pm, with weekly closing day postponed to the first next available non-holiday work day;

Information and reservations

Doge’s Palace Ticket Office Phone +39 0536 801655 / 389 2673365
PR Department of the Municipality of Sassuolo Phone +39 0536 880801

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