The Art of Tables
For over 30 years Matilde Argiolas, one of the finest Italian porcelain decorators, has been inspired by antique fabrics, prints and classic décor. Samurai, geishas, roses, elephants, butterflies, abstract patterns, Matilde’s world is a very colorful one and ISSIMO had the fortune of being invited into her private creative cocoon – over a coffee and the first frappe di Carnevale of the season!
We met her in her kitchen, where all the magic happens and where we also met Vasco her dog and Mr. Rabbit, her rabbit. She was working on an Il Pellicano mug and kindly took us through the process.
She carefully studies shapes and color combinations and then, just as in an alchemical transmutation, Matilde mixes different parts of colored pigments and metal oxides and with saintly patience, hand paints the most beautiful design on the most exquisite porcelain.
How did you get into porcelain?
I studied jurisprudence but I have always loved art, especially porcelain. As a student, I worked in different antique shops and auction houses in Piazza Navona, and was always drawn to the ceramics and porcelain sections. But porcelain has really always been a passion of mine; at 15, I had insisted on visiting a Meissen factory and was captivated by all the colors, the pigments stored in beautiful jars, etc. It was then that I understood that I really loved it all.
When did the switch from jurisprudence work to porcelain decoration happen?
When I got married at 27 and my husband said ‘basta!’. He encouraged me to stop working in jurisprudence, which I obviously did not enjoy, and do something I love. So I enrolled in a porcelain painting course and the rest is history.
Were you ever interested in learning how to make the porcelain pieces you paint?
Making porcelain is something quite serious and requires very high-temperature ovens. You need an entire structure for it, one that is much more complicated and industrial – it is definitely not something I can pull-off in my kitchen and balcony! Besides, I really enjoy the painting porcelain.
What technique do you use?
It is a traditional technique called ‘cottura terzo fuoco’, (third fire cooking) basically a type of overglaze painting. It is the traditional technique for porcelains used since the 1700s. The low-temperature burning (between 720 and 800°C) allows the use of any kind of color and metals such as platinum, gold, silver and copper. The burning process also allows the most varied and specific color shades, ensuring the smallest details come through.
Have you always worked for yourself?
I had a nice ‘career’ I would say and have worked for the most beautiful shops in Rome, from Ilaria Miani to L’Ecriteau. Today I work for myself and I am very happy and grateful for the fact that I can choose who I want to work with.
You do a lot of work for clients, but are there any specific themes that inspire you personally?
Unfortunately, I do not have the time to do the things for me! I work with amazing partners that I enjoy working with but also have to cater to my 24-year-old twins’ personal requests – one wants a full service of Samurai designs and the other wants one of flowers!
I like many things to be honest and often end up working with themes I like. I love everything antique, classic things and designs. I also like refined things, for example I like ethnic patterns, but I like them refined. I am also very attracted to the evolution of shapes and of colors.
How do you give antique and classic designs your personal touch?
What I love is interpreting the antique patterns and designs in today’s language. I look at different ways to innovate, with different shapes and different use of color.
How do you feel you contribute to the ‘Made in Italy’?
In Italy there is a lot of ceramic painters – from North to South, there are good ones and great ones. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about porcelain decorators. I think one of the reasons is the cost of the material – the paint, the colors, the porcelain – it is a very costly job. It is also a very difficult job, very time consuming and it requires a lot of patience – and a lot of passion. For example, this Pellicano mug I am making for ISSIMO requires several steps and takes up to approximately 6 days between painting and cooking and cooling. It is all made by hand, one by one. I’m glad to be one of the few artisanal porcelain decorators ‘Made in Italy’.