This plate is a fine addition to a body of works by an anonymous painter recently called 'The Painter of Aeneas in Italy' by John Mallet.1 The painter's work has frequently been confused with that of Nicola da Urbino, as stylistically the work of both are very close. In common with Nicola and many other maiolica painters of the period, the Aeneas painter frequently used the simple woodcuts in Giovanni dei Bonsignori's popular Ouidio methamorphoseos vulgare published in Venice in 1497 (or later editions) as inspiration for his decoration. As the Aeneas painter's style was so close to Nicola's, it is very probable that he could have worked in Urbino or worked closely with Nicola in his workshop, as suggested by Poole2 and Mallet.3 As many of the pieces identified as being by him are lustred,4 it is also very probable that he worked in Gubbio, as noted by Poole and Wilson.5 Mallet also notes that a number of the pieces attributable to the Aeneas painter are lustred with the dates 1524, 1526 or 1527 (but not 1525), and the 'close grouping of the lustred dates on all these pieces suggests that our painter may have had a short contract, or perhaps two one-year contracts, to work at Gubbio for Maestro Giorgio.'6
The subject of the present lot is currently unknown. Wilson suggests that it could depict Jacob unscrupulously obtaining his father's blessing by posing as his brother Esau, and he also suggests the Return of the Prodigal Son or Samuel blessing David as possible alternatives.7
The most closely related dish which appears to be by the same hand is in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick. Painted with Joseph and Potiphar's wife it is also dated 1524 and the figures are before a classical building with a circular window identical to the present lot.8 Other pieces thought to be by the same painter include a piece (dated 1524) in the V&A Museum, London, decorated with Diana and Actaeon,9 and a plate (dated 1524) in the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, decorated with The Rape of Europa.10 Mallet has noted that he cannot at present identify pieces by 'The Painter of Aeneas in Italy' beyond about 1530.1
1. After a dish at Bologna inscribed Quando Anea vene In Italia, see J.V.G. Mallet, 'Majoliques Italiennes de la Renaissance dans la Collection Hamburger', in Anne-Claire Schumacher (ed.), La Donation Clare van Beusekom-Hamburger, Faïences et Porcelaines des XVIe - XVIIIe Siècles, Geneva, 2010, pp. 17-19, figs. E and F.
2. J.E. Poole, ibid., p. 310, where she notes that the parallels between their work 'suggest that he had trained or worked in the latter's workshop or elsewhere in Urbino'.
3. J.V.G. Mallet, ibid.
4. See J.V.G. Mallet's review of the recent maiolica exhibition at the Musée de la Renaissance, Château d'Ecouen (October 2011 - February 2012) in the forthcoming issue of Faenza, where he attributes catalogue numbers 18, 52, 58 and 70 as being by the Painter of Aeneas in Italy, of which two (nos. 18 and 70) are not lustred, see Françoise Barbe et al., 'Majolique, La Faïence Italienne au Temps des Humanistes 1480-1530', Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, 2011, p. 53 and p. 129.
5. J.E. Poole, ibid., p. 311 and T. Wilson, ibid., p. 317, where he notes that they are 'in all probability painted in Maestro Giorgio's workshop'.
6. J.V.G. Mallet, ibid., Geneva, 2010.
7. T. Wilson, ibid., p. 317.
8. Johanna Lessmann, Italienische Majolika, Anton Ulrich-Museum catalogue, Brunswick, 1979, p. 191, no. 173.
9. B. Rackham, Catalogue of Italian Maiolica, Victoria & Albert Museum catalogue, London, 1940, nos. 720 and 721, Vol. II, plate 114.
10. J.E. Poole, ibid., pp. 308-311, no. 378 and T. Wilson, ibid., p. 318, fig a.
11. J.V.G. Mallet, ibid., Geneva, 2010, where he notes that the painter may have retired, or perhaps 'he submitted to new influences that have hitherto concealed from us what he was doing in the century's third decade'.