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Dish

Francesco Xanto Avelli (c.1487 - c.1542)

Category

Ceramics

Date

1532

Materials

Earthenware, tin-glazed (maiolica), printed in colours

Measurements

30 mm (Height); 261 mm (Diameter)

Place of origin

Urbino

Order this image

Collection

Polesden Lacey, Surrey

NT 1245527

Summary

An Urbino maiolica istoriato dish with the arms of Pucci, painted by Francesco Xanto Avelli da Rovigo, the Marches, Italy, 1532.

Full description

Of the twenty-three pieces of Italian Renaissance maiolica at Polesden Lacy, four are signed by the prolific and masterly painter Francesco Xanto Avelli, of Rovigo, near Padua, known as Xanto (1486–1542). It was unprecedented for maiolica painters, indeed for any pottery worker, to sign their work. Xanto’s earliest known fully signed plate is dated 1530, and may be a piece of defiance, as it coincides with a dispute over wages between skilled workers such as himself and the master potters of Urbino, who owned the workshops. This signed, broad-rimmed dish is part of the largest table service ('credenza') executed by Xanto, of which 37 pieces are known to survive. Bearing the arms of the powerful Pucci family of Florence, it was ordered around 1532–3, possibly for Cardinal Antonio Pucci (1485–1544). However, the arms, painted on a shield with a 'moor’s head' wearing a headband with three hammers, are suspended from a papal 'ombrellino' (canopy) rather than a red cardinal’s hat. Like the majority of the service, the dish depicts a scene from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’, in this case Bacchus’s transformation of the Thracian Maenads into oak trees, as punishment for murdering Orpheus. In the absence of a print source, Xanto, who was also a poet, created his own composition, using figures from woodcuts of around 1524–5 by Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio, after Rosso Fiorentino (1494–1540). The Pucci service was dispersed long before the mid-nineteenth century, when elements of it began to appear in England. The Polesden dish was in the magnificent collection of Ralph Bernal (1784–1854), sold at Christie’s on 22 March 1855 (lot 1795). Henry Harris (c.1870–1950), a maiolica enthusiast, later acquired it and in 1930 engaged the Finnish art historian Professor Tancred Borenius to catalogue his collection. Harris and Borenius were friends of the celebrated society hostess the Hon. Mrs. Ronnie Greville (1863–1942). They both advised her on purchases and influenced her taste in the formation of her collection of maiolica, now at Polesden Lacey, which she acquired between 1925 and 1935 for her house in Mayfair. Although it has been observed that Mrs Greville formed the collection with an eye for display, it includes many exceptional items, such as three rare maiolica parrots, made in Urbino in about 1550. Perhaps Alexandrine or Ring-necked parakeets, they were probably table ornaments, made in imitation of the colourful and exotic birds kept as pets by Renaissance nobility. They passed through the hands of the antiques dealer Alexander Barker (1797–1873), who in 1862 lent them to an exhibition in the South Kensington Museum. Barker, who advised Baron Mayer de Rothschild on the furnishing of Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire, sold his maiolica en bloc in 1870 to the art collector Sir Francis Cook, 1st Baronet (1817–1901), of Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey. The birds were acquired by Borenius on behalf of Mrs Greville at Cook’s sale at Christie’s on 7 July 1924 (lot 7). In the redisplay of the collection by the National Trust in the late 1940s they were paired with an equally rare maiolica duck of about 1550 (NT 1245530).Text adapted from Patricia F. Ferguson, Ceramics: 400 Years of British Collecting in 100 Masterpieces, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2016. -- Note on Heraldry: The arms of Pucci of Florence are described in heraldry as 'a moor's head couped proper, and banded argent, the band charged with three hammers sable'. The 'moor's head' - the head of a black person (sometimes crowned, sometimes ‘wreathed’ about the head) - appears frequently as a motif (or charge) in medieval European heraldry. In the language of heraldry, the person depicted is described (or blazoned) as a ‘maure’, ‘moor’, ‘blackmoor’ or ‘blackamoor’, and the motif as ‘a maure’s head’ or ‘a moor’s head’, and so on. The term ‘maure’ derives from the Greek work ‘mauros’ meaning ‘black’ or ‘very dark’ and, in the medieval and early modern periods, was an ill-defined stereotype applied to Muslims of the Islamic Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. Usage developed to conflate Muslims of any ethnicity with black Sub-Saharan Africans. The image of the ‘moor’ or ‘blackamoor’ in European heraldry is itself usually stereotyped. Precisely when and where this motif was adopted as an heraldic charge is unknown, but the earliest example is thought to date from 11th century Italy. Its origins may lie in the invasion of Spain and Portugal in 711 by Africa and Arab Muslim forces. In Western Europe, the device may have referred to the black Egyptian St. Maurice, the patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire from the beginning of the 10th century, or to denote participation in the Crusades. Sometimes, in England, the device is used in what are known as ‘canting’ arms, and are incorporated into the arms of a family called ‘More’ or ‘More’, as a pun on their name. Several National Trust properties were, at one time in their history, owned by families whose coats of arms and/or crests incorporated ‘a moor’s head’ as an heraldic charge, and so it appears on objects which survive in National Trust collections. The arms of the Bankes family of Kingston Lacy, for instance, granted in 1613, included the crest ‘a moor’s head, full-faced, couped at the shoulders proper, on the head a cap of maintenance gules, turned up ermine, adorned with a crescent, issuant therefrom a fleur-de-lis or’. ‘Moors’ heads’ also featured in the arms of the Watt family, slave-traders and owners of several Jamaican plantations, who bought Speke Hall in 1795 and who set up their arms in stained glass in one of the windows there. The term ‘moor’ is now considered anachronistic, but it remains part of heraldry’s descriptive vocabulary. It is used here in its historical and heraldic context.

Provenance

From the Ralph Bernal Collection, Christie's, 22 March 1855, Lot 1795, when it was bought by Sir H.H. Campbell. From the Henry Harris Collection, Borenius, Catalogue, London, 1930, Plate XII B, No. 35. While in the Harris Collection the plate was exhibited at the Burlington House, 'Exhibition of Italian Art', 1930, case 950 M. The bequest of Margaret (Anderson) McEwan, The Hon. Mrs Ronald - later Dame Margaret - Henry Fulke Greville, DBE (1863-1942) from probate records linked with the donation of the property to the National Trust in 1943. This item found on the record for Polesden Lacey Majolica stored in the basement, page 96.

Marks and inscriptions

Signed on reverse: .1532. / Le Baccanti co[n]verse I / verdi frasche. / Nel.XI.libro d Ovidio Meth. / fra.Xanto. A. / da Rovigo. I / Urbino.'

Makers and roles

Francesco Xanto Avelli (c.1487 - c.1542), artist

References

Ferguson 2016: Patricia F. Ferguson, Ceramics: 400 Years of British Collecting in 100 Masterpieces, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2016, pp. 188-9

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