Virginio Minardi (1864-1913) and his brother Venturino (1866- 1907) were, according to Dirani and Vitali , Russian born immigrants who arrived in Italy while still only infants.
The brothers began their ceramics careers at the Societa Ceramica Faenza (SCF). Virginio worked in the painting and decorating department under the direction of Giovanni Gulmanelli. Gulmanelli was well known throughout Faenza for his expert application of the Raffaellesco design and Virginio quickly became his protégé. Because the economic situation in Faenza was faltering Virginio and Venturino moved to Florence. They spent several years working in the famous Cantagalli factory. Virginio, in particular, was highly influenced by what he had learned in Florence under the tutelage of the master ceramicist and traces of the Cantagalli style remained in Virginio’s work throughout his life.
In 1899 the brothers returned to Faenza and opened a studio in a former 1700’s stable that had also served, at one time, as a candle-making factory. During these early, formative, years they produced objects of extreme beauty with decorations done in breath-taking detail. Venturino was a miniaturist at heart and his true passion was decorating parchments with miniatures scenes surrounded by volutes, cherubims and scrolled letters such as found in medieval manuscripts. He applied these talents to his ceramics works with expertise. The former stable became not just a pottery but also a laboratory of sorts. Virginio experimented with mixing various clays and the crystallization of glazes. His quest for knowledge and experimentation led him and his brother to travel the ceramics factory at Juan les Pins, near Cannes, in France. The factory was known as a mecca for ceramicists experimenting in new processes, new styles and new art forms. While he was there Virginio discovered Art Nouveau and he assimilated lessons in the new art form from such artists as Mucha and William Morris. During their stay in France, Venturino met and married Caterina Lefevre, a French noblewoman.
Upon their return to Faenza, Virginio realized that the small studio and former stable simply was not large enough for the production of their ceramics and demand for their work could not keep up with their limited production capabilities. In 1903, using Lefevre’s abundant dowry, the brothers decided to build a magnificent factory near the Faenza railroad station and Salvolini Street. Venturino’s wife, Caterina, was instrumental in designing the building, which resembled a magnificent palace rather than a factory. The grounds included wonderful gardens with fountains and pools.
In 1907, at the age of forty-one, Venturino was struck with what Caterina labeled “an unknown evil” and died suddenly. Neither Caterina nor Virginio ever fully recovered from the loss.
Six years later (1913) Virginio fell ill and was unable to work. On May 4 of that year , at age 49, he passed away. The local newspaper “Il Lamone” ran his obituary and attributed his death to “the varnishes used in his job” (lead poisoning)
The list of artists associated with the history of Fabbrica Fratelli Minardi is stunning. The list includes names that the reader will encounter throughout this forum and in any publication about 20th century Italian ceramics. Paoli Zoli was a decorator, as was Francesco Castellini, Luigi Masini, Anselmo Bucci, Ricardo Gatti, Achilles Wildi, Luigi Fantoni, Emilio Casadio, Mario Ortolani and from 1903 to 1905, Pietro Melandri. Perhaps the most outstanding artist of the day was Domenico Baccarini, model maker, sculptor and painter.
FABBRICA F.ILLI MINARDI E SOCI - Second Period, 1913 – 1922
The Fabbrica F. Illi (abbreviation for Fratelli) Minardi E Soci (Society) was a result of a core of Minardi employees and directors who realized the important contributions made by the Minardi brothers and the value of the factory to the future of the city of Faenza. In 1913 Paolo Zoli, Francesco Castellini, Giuseppe Fiuma, Anselmo Bucci, Luigi Masini, Amerigo Masotti and others joined together to keep the factory open. They kept the Minardi name to honor the brothers.
In the first year of operation the company concentrated production on the new, more progressive, art forms but the public wanted the traditional wares of Faenza and sales were disappointing. In 1914 another problem arose for the firm – World War I.
Zoli, Bucci and Masotti, as well as many of Minardi e Soci’s employees, were conscripted for military service in 1914 and 1915. This left the factory with only a few of its leadership in place and a loss of talented artists.
As a result of this shortage a new generation of artists emerged to fill the void. Among these replacements were women, including Emma Pozzi. Pozzi’s unsurpassed talents were immediately recognized by the all the other decorators of Faenza and her acceptance by the artistic community was critical to the advancement of all Italian women. Pozzi was joined by the equally talented Clorinda Pompignoli (more about Clorinda in the future), Celestina Borghi, Maria Concetta Marabini and Maria Silvestrini and other women entering the work arena. In order to ensure that the skills needed to produce the fine ceramics of Minardi continued without interruption small classes were organized to instruct incoming employees.
Castellini and Masini, acting as interim directors of the factory decided to return production to the classical Faentina designs and shapes in order to increase sales and realize a profit. Showrooms were established in hotels and this proved successful as returning soldiers bought souvenir pieces during their stopovers.
At the end of the war, Zoli, Bucci and Masotti did not return to the Minardi factory. The factory continued operations until 1922. In 1923, Castellini, his brother Ezio and Masini, opened a new pottery, the famous Faventina Ars, often referred to simply as "CCM" (the initials of the three partners) as seen on the bottom of their products. Although the mark of Minardi & Soci disappeared the factory itself remained operational as a school of ceramics art.
It should be noted that I have often seen the conjoined "MF" logo misattributed to the great Pietro Melandri. The Melandri "MF" mark and its variants, while quite similar to the Minardi logo was used beginning in 1922 when Pietro, with assistance of the Milanese industralist, Umberto Focaaccia, opened a studio on the site of the former Minardi factory. The collector should learn to spot the various marks as the difference between an artistic example of Melandri's studio work and a piece of Minardi production ware can be thousands of dollars.
Inkpot -Minardi & Soci Circa 1913
The Minardi Factory in Faenza
Walter Del Pellegrino