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Creativity is not always serious, and many great artists across the many media have given vent to their desire to laugh, both at their art form and at their clients, through creating a joker or a joke, like Bossa Buffona drinking jug.

Throughout the history of theatre, the joker has been a source of laughter, a source of self-ridicule, but also a source of wisdom lost on the ordinary and self-opinionated characters of the play. In the world of pottery, the Boccia Buffona (joker jar) and the Bummulu Malandrinu (from Caltagirone area of Sicily) are such characters, but each of quite different hydraulic design.

Let us concentrate on the Bossa. It is a local traditional art, a fine artisanal and artistic ceramic, a collectible jug of delicacy and rustic charm. Yet, try to use it as a jug for pouring or drinking and you find that it demands intelligence greater than your skills such that only the buffoon practiced in the art of ’playing’ the Boccia, can sip of its treasured wine, while the elegant dandy is left, but a laughing stock.

This artistic drinking jug, which combines the best of ceramic artisanship with the expertise of a master plumber, arose over 200 years ago in the potteries around Nove, in Veneto area, but apart from a small number of pieces in the Ceramic Museum in Nove, appears to have escaped the attention of the historians. Boccia (or Bossa) Buffona translated from the local dialect, means ‘prankster jug’. It is firstly an art object all convoluted with bunches of grapes, stalks, leaves, branches … that requires a lot of work both in the construction and decoration.

However, this drinking jug is not usable as any other because there are holes and openings from which the wine would come out at the slightest inclination. The drinker will have to figure out the secret to be able to drink. He must suck the wine from one of the many cavities that are located between the decorations and ornaments, perhaps at the suggestion of someone who knows how to play the game. The holes within the walls of the ceramic jug, being interconnected, must be gradually plugged to avoid failure. Some holes are blanks leading to only a draft of air.

There have been craftsmen who specialize specifically in the creation of this object, loved by connoisseurs but unfortunately neglected for some years. And now it has its ‘rinascimento’, through the fun of a few old men of Nove, artisans of the Boccia from many years ago, the few who remember the tricks of the design and manufacture and who still have the eyes and feeling in their hands to create the jug and make it into a work of art – and of course the wit to use it for its sole purpose, a sip or two of wine.

Gavin Tulloch

Scienziato e poeta. Ama la chimica, il vino, le donne e l’opera, ma non sappiamo in quale ordine