Earth: a most un-elementary element

Matteo Brioni has put a modern spin on unfired earth, an ancient and delicate material with boundless aesthetic potential

The family kiln in Gonzaga, in the Mantua region, has seen four different generations over nearly 100 years of activity: it is all of this tradition and history upon which Matteo Brioni has drawn to reinvent the use of unfired earth.


And although it may seem like a simple achievement, behind his prolific output is an elusive mix of intuition, study and passion. Brioni is obsessive in his selection of raw materials, while his artistic direction can be summarised as one that combines expert knowledge with an unyielding focus on what he wants to achieve.

The architect Marialaura Rossiello of the Irvine Studio was the person that showed him the way – but the rest was all down to Brioni and his collaborators.

Brioni works with one of the four primary elements – the only one that the human hand can control and shape. His creations may not seem like the stars of the show in the beginning, but they become just that when incorporated into their final project. Be they objects or finishes, Brioni’s projects are unmistakeable in their style. The environmentally sustainable nature of the processed material is a fully fledged lifestyle – a guiding principle – for Brioni, as his website makes clear from the very beginning. It’s as if he wants to lay his cards on the table from the off.

The recent Milan Design Week saw Brioni involved in several different collaborations, though the central focus was of course his space at Agape 12 (evidently, people from Mantua just click!), where he showcased the Capitelli collection, featuring three minimal pieces (a side table, a table centrepiece and storage tray for knick-knacks) with three different styles (Ionic, Doric and Corinthian).

The Bulthaup space saw Brioni supply a pomegranate TerraTon flooring, which worked perfectly with the pre-existing terracotta floor and the rest of the surrounding space.

Terra Evocata, meanwhile, was chosen to add the finishing touch to Elmar Cucine’s space, providing a quintessential illustration of Brioni’s skill in providing bespoke solutions.

Last but certainly not least, the La Torre delle Terre installation wowed visitors at Space & Interiors, with 14 different types of clay transformed into 14 Stratigraphs, creating a truly stunning mixture of dimensions and colours.