Castles and the Sistine Chapel of Majolica
The ancient village of Castelli, in the Mavone valley, perched between the Rio and Leomogna streams, below Mount Camicia, at the foot of the Gran Sasso massif, is one of the most precious pearls of the province of Teramo not only for the amenities of the place, for its monuments and historical memories, but also and above all for its rich artistic heritage that lives and thrives thanks to the industriousness of many artisans who for centuries have handed down, from father to son, the mastery and secrets of ceramics.
This village, in fact, is famous throughout the world for the production of extraordinary quality and refinement of its ceramics, so that splendid specimens are collected in important private collections and exhibited in the largest museums in the world such as the British Museum, the Hermitage, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the jewels of Castelli is certainly the Church of San Donato. It was Carlo Levi who defined it in 1963 as the "Sistine Chapel of majolica" for its splendid majolica ceiling, unique in Italy.
The Church of San Donato was erected as "cona" (small country church) dedicated to the Madonna del Rosario in the fifteenth century. Its first majolica ceiling, today exposed at the Castelli Museum of Ceramics, is attributed to the school of ceramists of the Pompeii family. Originally in the Church there were more than a thousand bricks that during the centuries have undergone many troubles: when the winters were stiff and on the roof of the church a lot of snow was accumulated, since the shingles weighed their weight directly on these bricks, some of they broke; some of them fell and shattered, others split in half remained poised, were removed and replaced with others intact and with generic decorations. The cona was expanded, then, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, giving rise to the current Church of San Donato and its precious majolica ceiling made with the choral participation of all the castellan ceramists. The approximately 800 bricks that compose it, bearing the dates 1615, 1616, 1617, depict geometric patterns, coats of arms and heraldic emblems, floral ornaments and decorations, images of the animalistic repertoire and, above all, figures, symbols and religious inscriptions.
Perhaps even more striking is the presence of images of men and women of the time, made by painters with a strong talent characterizing. The so-called "San Donato style" has fueled for centuries the industriousness of the castellan shops, which have produced in considerable quantity for devotional or commercial reasons, making it one of the typical themes of local craftsmanship, together with the "landscape" and "fioraccio".