The success story of Sassuolo ceramics recounted in the museums of Marca Corona and the Iris Ceramica Group
The most important center for industrial ceramics in Italy can be found in the foothills of Modena, in a small, almost elite area of a few square kilometers. It is formed by the municipalities of Sassuolo, Fiorano Modenese, Formigine, Frassinoro, Maranello, Montefiorino, Palagano and Prignano which have united under the Unione Comuni Distretto Ceramico. This area has turned ceramic production – an ancient artisan tradition that originated in small workshops and was perpetuated over time to become an industry – into a vocation. Today, it is estimated that 80% of Italian tiles are produced in this district. This is due to the abundance of clay in the soil, to the presence of the Este family and other noble families who financed production, as well as the mass influx of labor and the region’s long-standing aptitude for trade and commerce. There are two places in Sassuolo and Fiorano Modenese that tell the story behind the history and expansion of the ceramic industry in the Modena region: the Galleria Marca Corona and the Museo Storico Iris Ceramica Group, the museums of two of the most important companies in the area.
Sassuolo lies at the heart of the Italian ceramic industry. The town also has a tradition of football and produces a unique aniseed liqueur, Sassolino Stampa. Its urban fabric is made up of production, commercial and residential activities that extend from the foothills to the plain. The town’s history and architecture are synonymous with the rule of the Este family, who chose it as their holiday destination in the second half of the seventeenth century, promoting its civil and economic progress. The eighteenth-century parish church of S. Giorgio, with its elegant rococo stuccoes, overlooks Piazza dei Martiri Partigiani, while Piazza Garibaldi is an attractive Renaissance square surrounded by porticoed houses, a place in which to stop and rest and where markets are held. But Sassuolo’s Ducal Palace, one of the most important Baroque residences in northern Italy, is undoubtedly its biggest attraction. This beautiful building was designed by the architect, Bartolomeo Avanzini, who was commissioned by Francesco I d’Este to transform the ancient castle belonging to the Pio family into the present building, which was then restored over the years. Inside, stucco decorations and elegant frescoes can be admired, particularly in the gallery of Bacchus, painted by the court painter, Jean Boulanger, in the first half of the seventeenth century. The main floor houses the apartments of the duke and duchess, adorned by hundreds of works from the Galleria Estense in Modena, which has contributed more than 300 paintings and sculptures to the palace. The fountain of Neptune, built by Antonio Raggi and designed by Bernini, graces the courtyard. An immense park surrounds the palace. It features the Belvedere pavilion with its tempera paintings depicting the Este family’s country residences and the baroque pond, a monumental tank for fish breeding. The latter, which was designed by Bartolomeo Avanzini and Gaspare Vigarani, stage designer and hydraulic engineer, became a spectacular “water theater” for games and performances.
Galleria Marca Corona
Founded in 1741 and now part of the Concorde Group, Marca Corona is the largest ceramic group in Europe funded entirely by Italian capital and the oldest ceramic company in the Sassuolo area. Over the years, it passed into the hands of a variety of enlightened entrepreneurs, including the Rubbiani family, shortly before the unification of Italy. This cultured, progressive family revamped the company’s style, invested in the local area and the training of artisans. It was the first company in Italy to launch the production of dry pressed tiles. Marca Corona’s long and distinguished history is inextricably linked to that of the entire Sassuolo ceramic district through a process of growth, exchange and mutual support. Its history is expertly recounted in the Marca Corona Gallery, a brand-new exhibition space in which visitors can admire over 250 ceramic objects from the Marca Corona collection in their historical and cultural context, thanks to comprehensive multimedia and interactive documentation. This corporate museum captures and preserves the spirit of the location. It showcases the passion and evolution of a successful area, narrating a story that is unique in the district, Italy and the world.
The sanctuary of the Beata Vergine del Castello stands on the hill overlooking the town. It was built on the site of the ancient castle dating back to the 10th century and later destroyed in 1510. The sanctuary was designed by Bartolomeo Avanzini in 1634 to house a fresco from the fortress gate and only completed in 1889. Inside, it is filled with frescoes, fine furnishings, paintings, and a collection of ex-votos that bear witness to the local people’s devotion to the ancient image of the Madonna and Child, to whom miraculous events were attributed. The Fiorano circuit, an experimental testing facility for racing and grand touring Ferraris, lies on the outskirts of the town.
Museo Storico Iris Ceramica Group
In 1961, Romano Minozzi founded Iris Ceramica in Fiorano Modenese. Over the years, the company expanded to become a Group incorporating several historic and prestigious brands, as well as start-ups with excellent potential that were able to carry on the entrepreneurial spirit of the founder. These companies succeeded in combining technological innovation with the wealth of knowledge behind traditional craftsmanship and ceramic – one of the noblest and best-performing materials – all while focusing on sustainability. Today, the Group is a world leader in the design, production and distribution of high-quality, authentic ceramic floor and wall coverings. Its history is told through the permanent exhibition in the corporate museum which preserves objects, slabs, patents and catalogs. It also showcases the highly effective marketing strategies that made the company famous all over the world while offering an unprecedented insight into the customs and advances in our society from the early 1960s to the present day.