Pietro Melandri (1885 - 1976) painter, ceramist, decorator, designer
Pietro Melandri was born in Faenza, Italy, a city revered for centuries for its glazed earthenware pottery, notably majolica. A student of the Faenza School of Arts and Crafts, at age thirteen Melandri became an apprentice at the Minardi ceramics workshop. In 1906 he moved to Salerno, and then to Milan, working as a set designer and decorator while studying Applied Arts at the Brera Academy. Trained as a painter as well as ceramicist, Melandri was especially influenced by the painters Antonio Fontanesi and Gaetano Previati. He was imprisoned in Hungary during WWI, during which time he became familiar with the Vienna Secession, and soon thereafter created his first ceramics.
In 1919, together with Paul Zoli and Francesco Nonni, Melandri formed La Faience, a workshop with the mission of renewing traditional glazed pottery. Exhibiting these ceramics at the 1921 Rome Biennale, he began an association with Umberto Focaccia, and in 1922 became artistic director of Focaccia and Melandri, utilizing masterful techniques and lusters to create artful commercial pieces. He presented works at the Monza Biennale in 1923 and 1925, as well as the 1925 Paris Decorative Arts Expo, and received honors at the 1930 Barcelona Expo. In 1932 Melandri established his own production house in Faenza. As sole owner, he was able to revolutionize production techniques, moving from traditional to more innovative artistic methods and designs. In 1933 he was given a personal exhibition at the Milan Triennale, and his work was praised in Gio Ponti's Domus Magazine.
Starting In the 1930s, Melandri created a series of sculptural panels that won him wide renown. These included: The Modern Venus, Milan (1933); Perseus and Medusa, which won him the grand prize for sculpture at the Paris Decorative Arts Expo of 1937; the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice for the Eliseo Theater, Rome (1938); the Angel of the Annunciation panel (1939); and the panels for the Cassa di Risparmio Bank, Imola (1943). In 1938 he also won first prize at the National Competition of Ceramics in Faenza, and he collaborated on the renovation of the Vatican Museum.
By now one of the most important Italian ceramicists, after World War II, Melandri was commissioned for significant works such as the décor for the Apollo Cinema in Bologna, the panels for the Hotel Bauer in Venice (1956), the Liberty War Memorial in the Faenza Cemetery in Faenza (1959). He collaborated with master architect Gio Ponti, as well as Melchiorre Bega, producing monumental works for buildings, public spaces, ocean liners, villas, hotels, banks, shops, and iconography for religious institutions. Melandri also collaborated with other important ceramic artists, creating designs that infused traditional techniques with boldly modern sensibility.
In 1966 Melandri was given a large retrospective at the Biennial of Ceramic Art in Gubbio. He remained active until the age of 86, and died in Faenze in 1976. Today considered among the greatest ceramicists of the twentieth century, Melandri was able to realize a highly expressive style, drawing from many artistic influences – Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Neoprimitivism – while forging his own unique vision. His masterful use of new techniques, of color, luster, and volume, and his reimagining of the majolica form transcend the periods of his works, making them highly sought after and collectable in the ceramic oeuvre.
Pietro Melandri, the Luster Master Rediscovered in Umbria, Palazzo Malizia, Torgiano, 2013
Terra Incognita: Italy’s Ceramic Revival, Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London, 2009
Pietro Melandri, Ceramiche dagli Anni ’30 Anni ’50, LITOGRAFICA FAENZA, 1995
Pietro Melandri, by Lucia Steffanelli Torossi, De Luca, Rome, 1987
The Art of Pietro Melandri in the Bolognesi Collection, by Elena Nesti, Dell'acero, Florence, 2002
Pietro Melandri, by Gaudenzi Emanuele, Faenza, 2002