The ancient village of Castelli, a few kilometres from SILVI MARINA, in the Mavone valley, perched between the Rio and Leomogna torrents, under Mount Camicia, at the foot of the Gran Sasso massif, constitutes one of the most precious pearls of the province of Teramo, not only for the amenity 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 skills and secrets of majolica.
In fact, this town is famous throughout the world for the extraordinary quality and refinement of its ceramics; splendid specimens are collected in important private collections and exhibited in the world’s greatest museums such as the British Museum, the Hermitage, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of Castelli’s jewels is undoubtedly the Church of San Donato, ‘the Sistine Chapel of Majolica’; 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 a ‘cona’ (small country church) dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary in the 15th century. Its first majolica ceiling, now on display at the Castelli Ceramics Museum, is attributed to the Pompei family school of ceramists.
Originally, there were more than a thousand bricks in the Church, which have suffered various vicissitudes over the centuries: when winters were harsh and a lot of snow accumulated on the roof of the Church, since the tiles weighed directly on the bricks, some of them would break; some would fall and shatter, while others, split in half and left hovering, would be removed and replaced with others intact and with generic decorations. The cona was enlarged at the beginning of the 17th 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 make up the ceiling, bearing the dates 1615, 1616, 1617, depict geometric motifs, coats of arms and heraldic emblems, floral ornaments and decorations, images from the animal repertoire and, above all, religious figures, symbols and inscriptions.
Perhaps even more striking is the presence of images of male and female figures of the time, created by painters with strong characterising talent. The so-called ‘San Donato style’ has fuelled the industriousness of the castle workshops for centuries, which have produced it in considerable quantities for devotional or commercial reasons, making it one of the typical themes of local handicrafts, together with ‘landscape’ and ‘floral’.