Italian maiolica Istoriato dish with Archangel Michael, Duchy of Urbino

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Urbino, Italy
Late 16th century
23.5 cm

F. Berti, Storia delle ceramica di Montelupo - Volume Secondo, Firenze 1998, pp. 333-339.
G. C. Bojani, Gaetano Ballardini e la Ceramica a Roma - Le Maioliche del Museo Artistico Industriale, Firenze 2000, p. 46, 47, 51, 58.

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This colourful dish was made in the Duchy of Urbino in the Istoriato style. The dish is painted with a scene with Archangel Michael and a kneeling man, probably from the classical story of the naming of the ‘Castel Sant’Angelo’ in Rome. 'Istoriato' is derived from the Italian 'Istoria', meaning history: pottery in the Istoratio style was painted with scenes from historical, mythical and biblical stories. The scenes were inspired by the realistic etchings, prints and paintings of Italian and German Renaissance painters, such as Raphael and Dürer. Characteristic of the Istoratio work from the Duchy of Urbino is that the painting covers almost the entire dish. The earthenware objects are like small paintings, in which the maker creates a perspectival image with a limited but colourful palette. The Istoriato dinnerware was loved by the elite as showpieces, and the distinctive Renaissance subjects of the paintings were in line with the revival of interest in classical antiquity and the style of contemporary painting.

The dish is made of maiolica: refined earthenware with an opaque white tin-glaze, decorated with brightly coloured images and shapes. The tin glaze becomes white due to the presence of tin oxide, a powdery white ash. On the lower edge of this dish, the red earthenware is visible through the white glaze. Maiolica was an expensive product because of its method of production, tin was a pricey substance, and great care was taken in shaping and decorating the pottery. The technique originated in Islamic Spain. Before the beginning of the 16th century, important Italian centres were Naples, Pesaro, Faenza, Rome and Deruta. From the sixteenth century onwards, remarkable maiolica objects were produced in Forlì, Cafaggiolo, Castel Durante, Rome, Urbino and Venice, as well as in various places in Sicily. 

The depicted scene shows Archangel Michael standing at the left with his sword in his hand, and a man in armour kneeling before him. Probably, it represents the story of the naming of the ‘Castel Sant’Angelo’  in Rome; to end the plague of 590, Archangel Michael appeared on top of the mausoleum of the Roman emperor Hadrian, on the banks of the Tiber in Rome, and sheathed his sword. The castle that was built on the site of the mausoleum was named ‘Castel Sant’Angelo’ in remembrance of this story. The dish shows a city in the background, possibly Rome. 


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