Zaccagnini (1905-2000) Italian ceramics design company and factory
The Zaccagnini company has gone through various incarnations since its original founding in Florence in 1905 as Ugo Zaccagnini & Figli (Ugo Zaccagnini & Sons). Namesake founder Ugo Zaccagnini (1868-1937) was a plaster modeler who had been employed by Richard-Ginori Ceramic Company (founded 1896) and had been a cofounder of Società Fabbriale Maioliche Artistiche in Florence, which was known for Renaissance-inspired ceramics. Founded with the help of his sons Pietro, Urbano, Prisco, and daughters Adele and Enrichetta, the Ugo Zaccagnini & Figli factory focused on producing ceramics in classic majolica and earthenware, notably in the style of Della Robbia.
In 1912 the company relocated to Florence’s Piazza Pier Vettori, where it expanded its volume, with “UFMZ” as brandmark. It exhibited at the Florence Crafts Exhibits, as well as the Milan Triennale and Trade Fair. In 1928 the factory was greatly expanded, taking over the industrial complex of a former fireworks factory on Via Monte Oliveto while keeping its headquarters on Piazza Pier Vettori. Taking its cue from the new hilltop location, the Zaccagnini brand was changed to a “Z” intersected by a hill-like curve.
After Ugo’s death in 1937, his son Urbano became company director, the second-generation period becoming identified with rustic terracotta pieces with three-dimensional winding cord designs. With the help of entrepreneur Aristide Loria, Urbano reformed the company into Ceramiche Zaccagnini S.p.A. Newly headquartered in Piazza Pier Vettori, the company modernized its production technology and capacity, growing to include 120 employees, and began exporting its products to the United States. With Urbano as artistic direction, Ceramiche Zaccagnini S.p.A. collaborated on designs with new artists, including Mario Bandini, Ottorino Palloni, Maurizio Tempestini, Gino Pozzi, renowned ceramist Leopold Anzengruber, majolica painter U. Ciardella, sculptor L. Contini, and Fosco Martini, known for his ceramic animal designs. In 1938 Walt Disney consigned the production of its ceramic cartoon characters to Zaccagnini S.p.A., ensuring that the Zaccagnini name become well known in the US. The company also made colored majolica vases, table lamps and settings, made special commissions for the Mussolini family, and was exhibited in the 1940 Triennale di Milano.
Inactive during World War II, the Zaccagnini factory reopened in 1945. In 1947 the company was commissioned to make reproductions of ancient ceramics for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Zaccagnini reached peak production the late 1940s and 1950s, during which many simpler Modernist-inspired ceramic works were produced, as well as an abstraction-inspired line called “Swedish.” In 1950 a number of Zaccagnini ceramics were exhibited in the Italian Crafts Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. In the US much of the Zaccagnini from this period was likened to Hollywood Regency style in that it combined classical and modernist traits together with more opulent decorative flourishes. Having obtained an exclusive contract with Walt Disney, by 1958 the company had produced some 150 different Disney sculptures, along with Disney-themed majolica soap dishes, salt and pepper shakers, and other objects featuring the likes of Donald Duck, Pluto, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. By now Zaccagnini was exporting all over the world and fast becoming collectible.
In 1954 Pietro Zaccagnini died. Then in 1958 Urbano Zaccagnini left the family company and opened his own studio in Florence, Urbano Zaccagnini Ceramiche Artistiche (Artistic Ceramics). Perhaps best known for contemporary lusterware, this company remained active until Urbano’s death in 1964. The following year, the last remaining brother Prisco died. Having also ceased major production in 1964, Zaccagnini S.p.A. remained nominally opened until 2000. Today the Zaccagnini name figures significantly in the history of ceramics, artistically, as well as for its progressive industrialization practices. The former factory complex on Monte Oliveto was set up like a village for its craftsmen, with individual houses serving as workshops for each potter, decorator, and other employees. Zaccagnini pieces reached markets worldwide, being sold in fine retailers such as Tiffany & Co., thereby affirming and perpetuating the history and tradition of fine Tuscan ceramics.
Ceramiche Italiane Marchi di Fabbrica 1920-1943: Volume 1 Industriali della Ceramica (Archivio Storico Ceramiche Cacciapuoti Vol. 5), Claudio Guaita Diani, Amazon Media, 2017.
La Ceramica Sestese, Francesca Capetta, Firenze, Opus libri, 1990. (Exhibition catalog)