This early dish is exceptional for the naturalistic three-dimensionality of the head and unusually successful animation highlighted with fine brushstrokes. The painter has captured a piercing glance over the shoulder, and the character of the sitter that remains captivating 500 years after it was made.
Numerous dishes are known which depict beautiful women -bella donnas- or heroes of antiquity, often with ribbons inscribed with their names, typically these are painted in a simpler and more stylised form. Saints, both male and female, are much less common. These are usually attributed to the group of maiolica factories established in Le Marche at Castel Durante although nearby Urbino and even Gubbio can be possibilities. The related pieces from Faenza usually have decorated backs. These dishes are rarely signed or dated so the artists usually remain unidentified. It is tempting though, to think that the known painters of istoriato may have also lent their hands to this type. Most famously the celebrated series of dishes painted with heroes and heroines, was long associated with Nicola da Urbino having been attributed as such by Otto von Falke. However, as Timothy Wilson and Dora Thornton discuss in the catalogue of maiolica for the British museum, it is difficult with the subject matter being so different, to find enough similarities that allow for a convincing attribution. They conclude however, as we would with this piece, that the better examples must have been painted by some of the great maiolica painters of their age.
Whilst most Renaissance istoriato designs are taken or adapted from engravings, the earliest examples like our dish appear to be original conceptions of the artist.
Two chips at 6 and 9 o’clock and a smaller at 2 o’clock have been restored
Dora Thornton and Timothy Wilson, Italian Renaissance Ceramics: A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection, Vol 1, no. 204, pp. 346-347
For a discussion of the attribution of related wares see:
Claudio Paolinelli, Terra pulchritudinis. La maiolica a decoro ornamentale nel Ducato di Urbino nella prima metà del Cinquecento, published in: F. Paoli, J. T. Spike (ed.), Francesco Maria I Della Rovere di Tiziano. Le collezioni roveresche nel palazzo ducale di Casteldurante, Urbino, 2019, pp. 81-102