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Best of Italy
Grottaglie and its pottery through the life of the benefactor Vincenzo Calò A book by Roberto Burano about the distinguished doctor from Grottaglie, reconstructs his life, closely tied to the history of the town’s magnificent ceramics by Raffaele Nigro
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      The history of Grottaglie is a blend of many little stories, which is something that does not happen in all communities. The history of this community was shaped by the individual masters of the potter’s art, who, in working to build their own fortune, created a shared tradition.
      The biography of Vincenzo Calò, the many-sided physician from Grottaglie who lived between the 1800s and 1900s, a creature of a kind we are no longer accustomed to meeting today, a benefactor to humanity, is presented in the book, Vincenzo Calò (Scorpione Editrice, Taranto). The author, Roberto Burano, a bustling biologist from Grottaglie, is involved in voluntary work and has many interests: as well as his role in medicine, he is a lover of acting, of studies on Frederick II of Swabia and of the culture and history of his home town. The reconstruction of the life and works of Calò is accompanied by the critical comments of Guglielmo Matichecchia, former headmaster of the local Moscati high school. The research, carried out personally, involved a painstaking study of documents from the late 1800s and early 1900s, in the Grottaglie municipal archives and in those of the State, and arranges the life of Calò into six tableaux, including Calò on his death-bed, which recall a series of theatrical scenes. It obviously starts on 17 November, 1861, with the birth of the illustrious citizen.
         Calò graduated in Medicine at the age of only 22 in Naples with Enrico De Renzi, and there met the Jesuit Felice Tanzarella, when attending the church of Gesù Nuovo, where the remains of his fellow townsman, San Francesco De Geronimo, are kept. Calò established a copious network of correspondence, useful today to Burano in reconstructing the shreds of this biographical story, to bring back to Grottaglie the Jesuits, expelled by Garibaldi with a decree in 1860. The young Calò had the good luck to have, among those present at his graduation exam in 1883, two great figures of the national culture of the day, the journalist and writer Ruggero Bonghi and the cardiologist and clinician Guido Baccelli. Astonished at the young man’s knowledge, Baccelli invited him to enrol at the school of specialization in Hygiene in Rome. Calò dealt with tumors and when he came back to Grottaglie he devoted himself to a tireless dissemination of medical knowledge, obtaining the return of the Jesuits, thanks to whom he met the barnabite Giovanni Semeria. In 1922 he was awarded a gold medal for the work he had done, for his activity as a doctor motivated not by money but by the health of his townspeople and for his vigilant presence as a member of the board of the Acquedotto Pugliese, the region’s waterworks. 
         However, Calò had a special dream, following the theories of the Berlin professor Julius Stumpf, for whom clay was a precious medical substance with antiseptic, wound healing and energizing properties. He began to make extensive use of it, especially in cholera, smallpox and Spanish influenza epidemics. Clay was a noble product of the earth and every home should have a small amount of it, both for medication and as an artefact. Pottery, he noticed, was an instinctive interest for Cosimo, one of the children from his marriage to Francesca Parabita. This led him into a wild scheme. It was a step he took for Cosimo but above all it was to enhance the reputation of the community’s potters. While continuing to practice medicine, Calò poured the money he earned into a ceramic business on which he spent a million gold lire. An enormous sum. The Vincenzo Calò firm was set up behind the elegant villa, in the Parco delle Rimembranze, and the founder introduced numerous innovations that established the quality of Grottagliese ceramics at a national level. He purchased large electric machinery to crush the clay, replaced the old wood-fired kilns with electric ones so as to save the workers from respiratory diseases. He listened to the advice of staff who had emigrated to Corfu, Faenza and Castelli when they came back to visit their families and introduced red slipware and natural glazes to harden the pots. The workshop foyer was a showroom set up as a permanent exhibition of vases. This was new if we consider the hardship of the period.  Transforming production into something modern, fully respecting the love of the craft was therefore one of his strengths.
      Vincenzo Calò fell ill with the tumor he had studied as a young man, his clay infusions were no use and on the morning of 28 August 1933 he died at the age of seventy-one. The townspeople’s love for their benefactor was such that the public funeral was paid for by the populace, who proposed to name the Grottaglie Ceramic School after him and to erect a marble bust of him in Piazza Principe di Piemonte.
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