Vietri specializes in the tradition of Italian Majolica (aka Maiolica) pottery. About two centuries ago artisan's began painting ceramics with a base coat of white glaze, then painting patterns over the top. Done properly, this results in today's stunning pieces. Done poorly, this results in pieces that may pass as authentic Maiolica, but are in fact cheap fakes. Today it is possible to find recreations of ancient Maiolica designs; these tend to be much different than today's pieces, (and cost more besides.)
The art of Maiolica is labor intensive and has fallen victim to globalization. Tourists generally don't know any better and often shop on price alone. Many of the pieces labeled for sale were actually made in other third world countries using lead glazes and poor quality painting. These pieces will not stand up to a dishwasher, cannot be used in a microwave and may leach lead into your food. So how do you know if you have a piece of authentic Maiolica?
First, look for a factory stamp on the bottom. With the stamp, the piece is likely to be authentic. If the piece in question has the name "Vietri" or the name of the shop hand-painted on the bottom, this may be a poor-quality piece made in some third world sweatshop. Second, the larger pieces may have a stamp pressed into the wet clay around the bottom. This is another good sign. Third, look at the quality of the painting. If either the white glaze or the painted design look somewhat transparent, looking something like a water color instead of an acrylic or oil paint would look, then it may well be a fake piece. Fourth, look for signs the piece was pressed in a machine instead of being hand-thrown on a potter's wheel. Machine made pots may have a slight vertical line made where the two halves were joined together. Hand thrown pots may or may not have slight horizontal imperfections left over from the throwing process, but vertical flaws indicate a machine-made piece. Finally, if the piece is tableware rather than decorative, ask for some certification that the pottery is lead-free. Reputable shops will provide it for you. (Many of the shop workers don't speak much English, so you'll have to resort to your Italian phrase books.)
If you visit Vietri, go to Verena Ceramica and spend some time with Giovanni. Ask him to show you the differences between a genuine and a fake piece. Once you see it, you'll never forget it. If you're really nice, if Giovanni is not too busy, (and if the factory is open,) he may let you visit.
You can view the Stars & Stripes Travel pages about Vietri here. I've copied them here.
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Last edited on May 22, 2004