The art of maiolica, the name given to an Italian ware characterized by a tin glazing on which a painted decoration is laid and fired, reached its highest perfection in the North Italian city of Urbino. There Orazio Fontana, one of the greatest of the Italian potters and painters, established a workshop under the patronage of Duke Guidobaldo in the year 1540. Orazio himself died in 1571 but his workshop continued and in many of the best pieces of the Fontana shop the work of another hand is seen which differs from but is scarcely inferior to the work of Orazio. This artist, whose name is unknown to us, decorated a series of large round dishes with a white ground and the typical Urbinese motif of human and animal grotesques on the border. Characteristic of this hand are subject panels in the center of the plate and a peculiar elongation of the figures with a narrowing of the knee and ankle joints. Our plate is a beautifully preserved example of the work of this period and is very probably from the hand of this anonymous sixteenth-century master.The central panel of our plate depicts two nude figures fighting with clubs. They are probably Hercules and Cacus, for the Labors of Hercules were a favorite subject of the Italian ceramists, especially during the sixteenth century. It is possible that the two figures were indirectly copied from the famous engraving by Pollaiuollo of The Battle of the Naked Men,
for the Italian potters were not above adapting the themes of the painters. However, the skill and delicacy of the drawing in this plate reveal our master to have been more than a mere copyist and indeed one of the great practitioners of the art of maiolica.Referenced Work of Art
- Unknown Artist, Urbinese, 16th century. Maiolica Plate, after 1540. Glazed ceramic, 17 1/4” in diameter. Miscellaneous Purchase Funds, 1961, 61.5.