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AN URBINO ISTORIATO CHARGER
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AN URBINO ISTORIATO CHARGER

CIRCA 1560-70, ALMOST CERTAINLY THE FONTANA WORKSHOP

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AN URBINO ISTORIATO CHARGER
CIRCA 1560-70, ALMOST CERTAINLY THE FONTANA WORKSHOP
Possibly painted by Gironimo Tomasi, with a scene of a banquet in a piazza after Taddeo Zuccaro, with maiolica or metal-ware displayed on a stepped credenza to the right, within a border of fine grottesche divided by four medallions, the reverse inscribed Al popolo Romano Largo / Convito: in fine blue script
17 ½ in. (44.5 cm.) diameter
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Lot Essay

The inscription on the reverse translates as ‘a generous feast for the Roman people’. Zuccaro inserted a contemporary Renaissance form of display into the ‘Antique’ scene by including a dazzling array of wares (it is not clear if they are maiolica, silver or gold), on a credenza, or stepped sideboard, on the right. In the 16th century fine maiolica pieces, such as the present lot, were designed to be shown together with other related pieces as a collective display on stepped credenze.

This important charger is from a group of maiolica with central scenes derived from drawings by the artist Taddeo Zuccaro (1529-1566) and his younger brother Federico (1540/41-1609). In his seminal 1963 article,1 J.A. Gere discussed Zuccaro’s commission to produce designs for the famous ‘Spanish Service’, a maiolica service which was a diplomatic gift from Guidobaldo II Duke of Urbino to King Philip II of Spain. Vasari recorded that Taddeo Zuccaro was called back from Rome to paint the Duke’s daughter’s portrait, and ‘before he left, he made all the drawings for a credenza, which that Duke had carried out in earthenware at Castel Durante, as a present for King Philip of Spain’. The service was described in detail in a letter from Paolo Mario in Urbino in September 1562, where he noted that the thematic thread running throughout the decoration of the service was that it was decorated with all the history and deeds of Julius Caesar.2 The service was made between 1560 and 1562, and although it was recorded as having been completed,3 its present whereabouts is currently unknown. It is presumed that it has long been dispersed, and that surviving pieces from the service have yet to be conclusively identified. The continued use of the Zuccari drawings long after the service was dispatched, and the fact that the service was not armorial, have both hindered the identification of Spanish Service pieces.

Zuccaro's drawings for the Spanish Service were also used by a local stuccatore, Federico Brandani (c. 1520-1575). Brandani's five stucco low-relief ceiling panels which were carried out in the Palazzo Corboli in Urbino4 are adapted from Taddeo Zuccaro’s designs for the Spanish Service. The Banquet in a Piazza, the subject of the present charger, is one of Taddeo’s designs which was adapted by Brandani for a low relief panel, and the same subject appears on a small group of maiolica.

When Gere wrote his article in the Burlington Magazine, he was unaware of the existence of pieces which corresponded to Zuccaro’s banquet scene and the Brandani stucco of the same subject. One of these pieces is a charger with the same banquet scene, by a different hand, in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.5 Another fine piece (of superior quality to the Toronto charger), is a roundel which is painted with the same scene, which appears to be by a hand which is similar to the present charger. This roundel is part of a curious assemblage, the roundel being the central part of a charger which has been mounted together with the figural border from another charger.6 The two pieces have been united and framed to form a ‘single’ object, and they have been together since at least 1846.7 This piece has been identified by Camille Leprince and Justin Raccanello in their 2016 article as one of a group of pieces attributed to Gironimo Tomasi, a painter who left Urbino in search of better opportunities.8 A dish in the Louvre (Inv. OA 1720), without a grottesche border, is painted by a different hand with a related scene, but it omits the credenza and figures on the right-hand side, and also omits the two principal columned buildings on the left and right which frame the composition in the Zuccaro drawing.9
It is assumed that the Spanish Service had borders with grottesche against a white ground because so many of the surviving pieces with Zuccaro-derived scenes have white borders with grotesques, all’antica.10 This form of decoration did not occur on maiolica (with a white ground) before 1560.11 The Zuccari did not include grottesche on their designs for the Spanish Service, leaving the borders for the maiolicari to fill, which is an intriguing omission, particularly as at the time the Spanish Service was being made, Taddeo’s workshop was decorating the walls of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese’s villa at Caprarola with grotesques. In his detailed article, Christopher Poke demonstrated that the Fontana workshop principally used engravings from Petites Grotesques published by the French architect and designer Jacques Androuet du Cerceau (1510-1584) as a source for their grottesche decoration. These engravings were published in two editions, the first in Orléans (1550), the second in Paris (1562), and it seems that the Fontana set was probably obtained piecemeal (or supplemented to replace losses) with some earlier engravings and some later, as Poke demonstrated that a mix of the two were used. Some of the figures on the present lot appear to correspond to figures found on the 1550 engravings.

The medallion at 3 o’clock depicts Marcus Curtius, a young Roman soldier who leapt into the chasm to save Rome. According to Livy's 'History of Rome' (VII, 6), in 362 B.C. a deep chasm opened up in the Roman Forum and Marcus Curtius, a young Roman soldier, sacrificed himself to save the city by leaping into it. The wise men of the city declared that the Gods demanded that Rome's most valuable possession be thrown into it in order for it to be filled. Claiming that nothing was more precious than a brave citizen, Curtius leapt, fully armed and on horseback, into the chasm, which immediately closed. The spot was afterwards covered by a pond known as the Lacus Curtius which was dry by the 1st century BC. The legend of Marcus Curtius is the most widespread of several tales invented to explain the origin of the name Lacus Curtius in the Forum.

The subject of the medallion at 9 o’clock which illustrates Mucius Scaevola is based upon an heroic episode recounted by Livy. It took place during the siege of Rome by Lars Porsena, King of Clusium. A Roman nobleman, Gaius Mucius Scaevola, disguised himself in order to get behind the Etruscan lines in an attempt to kill Lars Porsena. Unfortunately by mistake he killed Porsena's richly dressed secretary instead. Mucius held his right hand in the fire in order to demonstrate his resolve and contempt for the torture which he thought would inevitably follow. Porsena, impressed by his endurance, released him and he was allowed to return to Rome, where he became known as Scaevola (left-handed).

1. J.A. Gere, ‘Taddeo Zuccaro as a designer for Maiolica’ in The Burlington Magazine, No. 105, July 1963, pp. 306-315.
2. G. Campori in Vanzolini 1879, Vol. II, pp. 215-216, and cf. C. Drury E. Fortnum, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Maiolica…in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1873, p. 337.
3. These stucco panels were moved to the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino in 1918.
4. Charlotte Vignon, Exuberant Grotesques: Renaissance Maiolica from the Fontana Workshop, September 2009 - January 2010 Exhibition Catalogue, The Frick Collection, New York, 2009, p. 11, fig. 2.
5. Bonita Cleri (curated), Per Taddeo e Federico Zuccari nelle Marche: Sant'Angelo in Vado, Palazzo Fagnani, 18 September - 7 November 1993 Exhibition Catalogue, 1993, p. 192, no. 43, and Cristina Acidini Luchinat, Taddeo e Federico Zuccari, Fratelli pittori del Cinquecento, Milan, 1998, Vol. I, p. 87 (obverse) and p. 88, fig. 13 (reverse).
6. First published by E. Du Sommerard, Les Arts au Moyen-Age…, Paris, 1846, Vol. V. p. 242.
7. Camille Leprince and Justin Raccanello, ‘The Transfer of the Istoriato Maiolica Tradition from Italy to France’ in The French Porcelain Society Journal, 2016, Vol. VI, p. 13.
8. Tomasi left Urbino and settled initially in Albisola between 1576 and 1781, and then moved to Lyon in France, where he died in 1602. The earliest piece which is signed and dated by him while he was still at Urbino is a dish painted with a bird’s eye view of the villa d’Este, which is dated 1575 (thought to have been destroyed in the Second World War). Other signed pieces by him date to his time at Albisola, and in Lyon, see Leprince and Raccanello, ibid., pp. 1-14, and D. Thornton and T. Wilson, Italian Renaissance Ceramics, A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection, London, 2009, Vol. II, p. 548 for a listing of the
known signed pieces.
9. Jeanne Giacomotti, Catalogue des majoliques des musées nationaux, Paris, 1974, pp. 336-337, no. 1027.
10. This form of decoration was ultimately derived from Roman wall paintings, especially those found in the Golden House of Nero near the Coliseum in Rome, which were discovered in the 1480s. As the rooms were underground, this gave rise to the term grottesche, from grotte meaning grotto. This type of decoration became popular in various forms, but it was Raphael’s Vatican Loggia, decorated with grotesques on a white ground, which was probably the most influential.
11. See Christopher Poke, ‘Jacques Androuet I Ducerceau’s “Petites Grotesques” as a source for Urbino maiolica decoration’, Burlington Magazine, Vol. CXLIII, June 2001, p. 339, where he discusses Piccolpasso’s ‘lament for the demise of the [dark-ground] grotesque in his manuscript Tre Libri dell’arte del vasaio, probably composed between 1556 and 1559’.
A forthcoming exhibition in the Palazzo Ducale, Urbino, opening on 31 October 2019, will, in part, exploit the relationship between Urbino maiolica and the building itself. It is hoped that this charger could form part of this exhibition, where it could be exhibited in the room with the Brandani stucco from Palazzo Corboli which corresponds to it. The intention is to display Zuccaro drawings with the maiolica and the stuccoes which were derived from them.


A forthcoming exhibition in the Palazzo Ducale, Urbino, opening on 31 October 2019, will, in part, exploit the relationship between Urbino maiolica and the building itself. It is hoped that the present lot could form part of the exhibition, where it could be exhibited in the room with the Brandani stucco from Palazzo Corboli which corresponds to it. The intention is to display Zuccaro drawings with the maiolica and the stuccoes which were derived from them.

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