The tradition of cotto dates back thousands of years, and is the result of the subtle alchemy between water, earth, and fire.

The Fornace Brioni in Gonzaga, a small town centre steeped in history and Renaissance culture in the plain around Mantua, produces cotto exclusively by hand, according to a savoir-faire that has been handed down through the generations, using the finest clays from the slow sedimentation of the floodplain of the River Po.

This family-run company is now in its fourth generation, headed by Alessio and Alberto Brioni, who are planning the future of cotto maintaining their strong link with the past. Fornace Brioni has over the years carried out constant research on the potential of this material that it produces in several versions, ranging from uniform and variegated cotto to glazed versions, in red and pink, and even grey and black to meet more contemporary tastes.

Due to this prospect of development, the Brioni brothers, Alberto and Alessio have hired architect Cristina Celestino to direct the design department of the brand, from 2016.

Without making any changes to the prestigious characteristics of this eco-friendly, vibrant, warm and long-lasting material, Celestino has started off on the basis of its past tradition, to investigate its potential for new effects and finishes. It was firstly necessary to make it flexible and luxurious, moving away from its more traditional connotations, at the same time exalting its strong and unique personality.
“For both the Giardino all’Italiana collection, and also the Gonzaga collection,
I started off by looking back at the history of this material, with the idea of moving it away from his historic rustic application and towards its more contemporary context. I realised that this material had a great deal of unexplored potential, so while traditional production techniques were still necessary, it was possible to experiment more on the design side.
There is nothing more homely, traditional and reassuring as a floor made with cotto tiles. The objective was thus to juggle around with the fundamental values of the material – its Italian workmanship, top quality, durability – and to give it a very bold appearance without altering its typical composition. For this reason,
I kept to the genuine material and elaborated it drawing on the traditional shapes and patterns in Italian culture. The end result is totally innovative yet still reassuring, balanced between nostalgia and cutting-edge design trends.”
By evoking the charm linked to the Renaissance popularity of cotto, Cristina Celestino used a totally innovative approach to this material, adding geometric and bas-relief patterns, in unusual formats and tile combinations. In this way she has explored that subtle distinction that transforms hand-crafted products into designer items.
Concept, design, art direction: Cristina Celestino
Graphic design, catalogue: Cecilia Cappelli
Photo credits: Mattia Balsamini
Styling, set design for Giardino all'Italiana Collection: Studio Fludd
Words for Giardino all'Italiana Collection: Marta Galli
Pr communication: Martina Gamboni