Art & Culture

Renato Rossi’s Amalfi legacy

The Professor, a founding father of the Salerno School of Ceramics, spread his art throughout the coastal area through his works and teachings.

By Editors, cover photo by Emanuele Anastasio

It looks like the page of a book on which the history of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi was written. One looks at it with interest and curiosity, trying to understand its various meanings. It is the ceramic work created by Renato Rossi, a master ceramist from Salerno known as Professore, carved on the left side of Porta della Marina in Amalfi. A panel that reveals, with creativity and ingenuity, the ancient maritime excellence of the coastal town. 

The medieval entrance

Positioned next to the Porta della Marina, the ancient Porta de Sandala, dating back to 1179, was one of the medieval entrances to the city of Amalfi. The panel illustrates the exploits, trade, and commerce that the Maritime Republic of Amalfi had with the rest of the world in ancient times. The work depicts the Crusades of Fra Gerardo Sasso, the Battle of Ostia that took place in 884 AD, when the fleet of the Maritime Republics of Amalfi, along with those of Naples, Sorrento, and Gaeta, defeated Saracen ships in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The panel also features verses from Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Canzone del Sacramento in the upper right corner. 

The Professor’s passion

But who was Renato Rossi? Why is he such an important figure in the history of Amalfi art and culture? The Professor is one of the founding fathers of the art of coastal ceramics. He was born in Rome in 1889, passionate about the world, and after his military service, he began to travel and devote himself to art. In Paris, he attended the Academy of Art, and his fellow students were Modigliani and Picasso. After honing his skills in Europe, he returned to Italy and began working at a ceramics factory in Rome. Due to the economic crisis of 1929, the factory closed, and the master moved to Venice to work on the restoration of the Doge’s Palace and then moved to Naples, where he found employment at the De Simone factory. His dedication to the art of ceramics was so all-encompassing that in 1931 he founded the first School of Ceramics in Salerno: a large artisan workshop where pupils learned all the secrets of this art directly from the master. His classes were animated by young talents eager to learn everything the Professor had to teach them. Among his students were also some important names linked to the history of Vietrese ceramics, including Vincenzo Solimene. Renato Rossi’s success traveled far beyond the school’s walls, so much so that in the 1930s itself, Vincenzo Pinto, founder of Ceramica Pinto in Vietri Sul Mare, contacted Rossi to run his company. The master was beloved for his skill, dedication to spreading this art, and professionalism. He was called upon to decorate and embellish many institutions in the area, including the rose window of the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Vietri Sul Mare, and the facade of the Archconfraternity of the Rosary and the Annunciation, also in Vietri. Many contemporary ceramists are still inspired by the works of Renato Rossi, an icon and an example that still sets a school for many up-and-coming young people. The Professor was a man driven by a great mission, namely to devote his life to the art of ceramics and to spread and teach it with great passion.

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