The central medallion on this charger is almost certainly derived from a design submitted by a major artist, rather than from a print. The scene is extremely similar to one on a trefoil basin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, attributed to the Fontana family workshop, circa 1561-75.1 The Ashmolean basin (illustrated above) is decorated with four scenes from the life of Julius Caesar, three of which are known to have been derived from drawings by Taddeo Zuccaro or his younger brother, Federico. The whereabouts of a Zuccaro drawing for the fourth scene, which also corresponds to this charger, is currently unknown, but the similarity and the subjects of the scenes points to the probability of the fourth scene also being based on a Zuccaro drawing, which is either lost or which has yet to come to light. However, the possibility that the scene could be based on a drawing by Battista Franco, who also submitted designs for maiolica, cannot yet be ruled out.
Franco and Zuccaro are the only two Renaissance artists who are known to have been commissioned to produce designs for maiolica. Franco worked intermittently for Guidobaldo II, Duke of Urbino, between circa 1545 and 1551,2 but it was Zuccaro who provided drawings illustrating scenes from the life of Julius Caesar, which corresponds to the subject on this charger. Zuccaro's drawings were commissioned by Guidobaldo for an elaborate service to be decorated with scenes from the life of Julius Caesar. The service, which was also decorated with grotteschi, was to be presented to King Philip II of Spain,3 and it is recorded as having been completed by 1562.4 Vasari recorded the existence of the service and Zuccaro's commission, but he noted that the service was made at nearby Castel Durante. It is not known for certain which workshop carried out the commission, but it is thought that Vasari's description of events was not entirely accurate.5 Stylistically, pieces of this type along with the service made for Guidobaldo himself, are thought to have been made in the Fontana family workshop, so the drawings were presumably given to them.
The similarity of the central scene on the present charger to the scene on the Ashmolean basin suggests the Fontana workshop as a possible attribution. The charger also bears similarities with the Guidobaldo Service group in the Bargello.6 However, the treatment of the grotteschi border on the present charger suggests the possibility of a slightly later date, and a Patanazzi workshop attribution is also very possible.
The drawings submitted by Taddeo and Federico Zuccaro appear to have been used for some time after the 'Spanish Service' was completed in 1562, and the same is true of Franco's designs. In their article discussing Franco's drawings and their relationship with maiolica,7 Clifford and Mallet show how the drawings were subsequently copied, and also appear to have been traced by the maiolica artists 'as full-sized cartoons for the plates'.8 Imagery derived from Franco's drawings certainly continued to be used, and presumably the copies served as a record of the drawings if they had been returned, or they served to extend their use if the drawings had become worn out.
In a letter written in January 1563, Annibal Caro asked his close friend Vittoria Farnese, Duchess of Urbino, for the return of drawings to an artist. It is thought that this must refer to Zuccaro's 'Spanish Service' drawings:
'The Duke your husband organised a series of drawings of many different stories as a painting design for a service of maiolica in Urbino. The service has been finished and the drawings have remained in the hands of those maestri, who do not normally have the originals. Would your grace be so kind as to try to get these copies back, maybe showing that he needs them, it would be a great courtesy towards myself and the painter'.9
The imagery derived from Zuccaro's drawings certainly continued to be used, and presumably passed into the hands of the Patanazzi workshop, who were connected to the Fontana by marriage, and who continued their business.10 The existence of later Patanazzi pieces with scenes after the Zuccaro originals confirms this must have been the case.11
A source for the huntsmen and hunting scenes on the border has not been identified, but the grotteschi decoration on the well echoes Jacques Androuet I Ducerceau's designs published in Petites Grotesques (Paris, 1562). For other important Urbino pieces of this period decorated with grotteschi after Ducerceau's designs, see Christopher Poke, 'Jacques Androuet I Ducerceau's "Petites Grotesques" as a source for Urbino maiolica decoration' Burlington Magazine, June 2001, No. 1179, pp. 332-344.
The unusual inclusion of two crowns in the grotteschi borders echo the inclusion of a crown at the top of a grotteschi panel on a large trefoil basin in the Getty Museum, which is attributed to Orazio Fontana's workshop and which also has similar hounds incorporated into the grotteschi border adjacent to the rim.12 A large dish in the William A. Clark Collection, attributed to the Patanazzi workshop, includes two crowns and an unidentified coat of arms in the grotteschi border.13 The groups of hounds on the border of the present charger are also very similar to those on an Urbino charger in the Bargello, dated by Conti as circa 1580, but not attributed to a workshop.14 Two plates in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick, incorporate similar huntsmen and hounds in the grotteschi borders15, but the handling of the central medallions suggests they were executed at a later date than the present charger, and similarly, huntsmen also appear on the border of a later trilobed Urbino basin in the British Museum bearing the date 1608.16
1. Published by Timothy Wilson, Maiolica, Italian Renaissance ceramics in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, 2003), pp. 82-83.
2. See Timothy Clifford and J.V.G. Mallet, Battista Franco as a Designer for Maiolica' Burlington Magazine, June 1976, No. 879, p. 392.
3. For the Zuccaro drawings and a discussion of the 'Spanish Service', see J.A. Gere, 'Taddeo Zuccaro as a designer for Maiolica', Burlington Magazine No. 105 (1963), pp. 306-315. Also see Timothy Clifford 'Some unpublished drawings for maiolica and Federigo Zuccaro's role in the Spanish Service', in T. Wilson (ed.), Italian Renaissance Pottery, Papers written in association with a colloquium at the British Museum (London, 1991), pp. 166-176, and see Cristina Acidini Luchinat, Taddeo e Federico Zuccari, fratelli pittori del Cinquecento (Rome, 1998), Vol. I, pp. 79-102. As the 'Spanish Service' does not appear to have been armorial, it is not known exactly which, if any, of the surviving pieces decorated with scenes from Caesar's life, once formed the service.
4. See Gere, ibid., p. 306, note 5.
5. See Gere, ibid., p. 309, note 8, where he writes 'this is not a significant discrepancy, since the Pelliparii, who later took the name Fontana, came from Castel Durante and were always associated with that place'.
6. See Giovanni Conti, Museo Nazionale di Firenze, Palazzo del Bargello, Catalogo delle Maioliche (Florence, 1971), nos. 11, 18, 21, 24, 25 and 27.
7. This commission is discussed by Timothy Clifford and J.V.G. Mallet, Battista Franco as a Designer for Maiolica' Burlington Magazine, June 1976, No. 879, p. 387-410.
8. Clifford and Mallet, ibid. (1976), p. 395.
9. It is not known if the drawings were recovered. See Caro 1957-61, III, p. 147, letter 680, quoted by Julia Poole, Italian maiolica and incised slipware in the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge, 1995), p. 379.
10. See F. Negroni, 'Una famiglia di ceramisti urbinati: i Patanazzi', Faenza No. 84 (1988), pp. 104-15.
11. See Johanna Lessmann, ibid., p. 324, no. 450 for an Urbino plate of circa 1600 decorated with a scene taken from a drawing attributed to Federico Zuccaro, illustrated opposite.
12. Catherine Hess, Italian Maiolica J. Paul Getty Museum, California, Catalogue (1988), pp. 112-115.
13. See Wendy M. Watson, Italian Renaissance Maiolica from the William A. Clark Collection The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Massachusetts, Exhibition Catalogue (London, 1986), pp. 162-163, no. 64.
14. See Giovanni Conti, ibid., no. 1.
15. See Johanna Lessmann, Italienische Majolika Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick, Catalogue (Brunswick, 1979), pp. 243-244, nos. 269 and 271, where they are attributed to possibly being made in the Workshop of Francesco Patanazzi, circa 1600-1620.
16. See Timothy Wilson, Ceramic Art of the Italian Renaissance (London, 1987), pp. 154-155, no. 243.