Tableware between Middle Age and Renaissance

During the late medieval period, when Salento was still under Byzantine dominion, what is now the Muro Leccese area saw small farming communities grow, creating villages or choria.

Glazed ware (late 15th century) Click here to enlarge

The excavations of Borgo di Muro have been of huge importance in the study of tableware in the transition period between the Modern and Medieval Ages, a time which, although marked by great economic, social and cultural change, we still know little about in terms of material culture. Thanks to the finds that were made we are now able to more accurately determine changes in the use of tableware and in the tastes of the decoration that adorned them. In the second half of the 15th century bowls and dishes were still used and were only replaced by proper plates in the 16th century: the southern part of the Salento peninsular is dotted with workshops (Ugento, Cutrofiano, Lecce) producing series of these artefacts. Covered in monochrome or dichromate glaze and, often, decorated with floral motifs, in brown, red and green, they still today continue to use the techniques and tastes of the Medieval period. At the end of the 15th century, however, with closer contacts and commercial exchanges with the Balkans, Salento's potters began to make new types of container using the "graffito" technique. Deriving from the Byzantine East and already in use in Italy since at least the 13th century, this consisted in etching a decoration, using sharp instruments in wood or bone, on the white patin of the slip (a white clayey solution that was spread over the surface of the vases). The etching or "graffito" allowed the colour of the pottery beneath to show through, creating a contrastive effect which was then adorned by adding coloured pigments and a transparent glaze; it was then, like other glazed products, re-fired.


Painted Pottery
Click here to enlarge

The oldest examples of “graffiti” vases made in the Salento area and decorated in green and red were found in Muro Leccese, bringing forward to the 15th century a type of pottery that was traditionally considered to be in use only in the following century. Renaissance production, on the other hand, has more complex decorations, with no red in them, a colour that was typical of Medieval ranges: the oldest experimentation of the “graffito” technique on the part of our potters uses etched signs to enrich a design in brown, green and red, whereas standardized production of “protograffite” would subsequently use just green and red. Numerous examples of bowls for individual use, but especially of shallow dishes, which are similar to proper plates, were found in Muro, and in these, next to the imaginative floral and heart-shaped patterns, you can make out some small red marks which would seem to distinguish entire sets of crockery including bowls, cups and jugs.