the Mugello and the Montagna Fiorentina, birthplace to Giotto, Andrea
del Castagno, and Beato Angelico, and an area in which many major Renaissance
artists worked, the important artistic crafts tradition also bore fruit
with the emergence, two centuries ago, of the Manifattura Chini, a
prime example of artistic ceramic production.
It all started with the founder of the family, Piero Alessio Chini,
a decorator by trade, who had a genuine passion for art which he passed
on to his five children, all of whom were his apprentices. They enthusiastically
and intelligently enlarged on and developed what their father had taught
In 1896, Piero Alessio's grandchildren set up together with
a number of other partners a small ceramics workshop in Firenze called
"L'Arte della Ceramica". It was a great success and the
modernity of its products were received very positively at the important
exposition in Turin in 1898. The head of the workshop was Galileo Chini,
but following various vicissitudes he abandoned it and went on to found,
together with Piero and Chino Chini, the ceramics factory Fornaci San
Lorenzo at Borgo San Lorenzo. They produced work of considerable artistic
value which was highly successful at various expositions in Italy. Besides
producing ceramics, the Fornaci San Lorenzo also started producing glasswork;
the impetus for the latter came from Chino, but although the work was
well-received in artistic terms, there was no accompanying commercial
breakthrough. The ceramic work, on the other hand, was judged at the
extremely important exposition in Faenza in 1908 to be amongst the best
work available on an international level. In a short space of time,
the Fornaci San Lorenzo began to attain recognition both at home and abroad,
owing to the innovative design and the beauty of the products.
The artistic fame of Galileo Chini even spread to the Far East,
and in 1906 he went to Bangkok to fresco the Palace of the Throne,
leaving the running of the company to Chino. Before the outbreak of the
First World War, the company covered the Lorenzo Berzieri thermal baths
in Salsomaggiore in ceramic gres. Galileo Chini frescoed part of it,
collaborating with other artists of the period.
In 1925, the Manifattura Chini began to participate once again at the
various national and international expositions, which the firm had temporarily
abandoned whilst concentrating on the prestigious work at Salsomaggiore.
Of particular success at these expositions was the work of Galileo, undisputedly
considered to be an artist both in terms of the decorative work he produced
and as the creator of valuable new working techniques.
In 1926, the management of the company was handed over to Galileo's son,
Tito Chini. Chino's sons, Elio and Augusto, also worked in the firm. Tito,
who was a chemist and Augusto, who was a sculptor, contributed their own
special expertise and provided important impetus for the further development
of the company.
The Manifattura Chini continued until 1943 when Borgo San Lorenzo
was heavily bombarded during the war; there was great loss of life and
the factory was damaged so seriously that it was not able to resume
normal working activity.
What was created by the descendants of Piero Alessio Chini - or at least
what has survived the passage of time - can be admired today both in
the Chini museum at Borgo San Lorenzo and in the decor of buildings
scattered all over Italy.
Pictures by Liberto Perugi