The present dish is related to another of the same subject and with a similar inscription, dated 1538, unsigned and with a surface likely either lustered in the workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli of Gubbio, or by Vicenzo Andreoli, Urbino. Formerly in the collections of Louis-Fidel Debruge Duminil and Peter A. B. Widener, among others, it is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. [1942.9.337].
The scene depicted tells the story of Leander and Hero. A youth of Abydos in Egypt, Leander was in love with Hero, a young priestess of Aphrodite at Sestos. To be with her, he swam each night across the Hellespont, guided by a lamp which Hero would light each evening. One stormy night, the wind extinguished the lamp and Leander, lost and overcome with fatigue, drowned. His body washed up on the shore at Sestos and was discovered by Hero the next day. Unable to cope with her loss, the young priestess threw herself into the sea, thus joining her lover for eternity.
As with much of Xanto's work, the individual figures are based on known contemporary print sources which were "cut-and-pasted" as needed to illustrate a given scene. The images on the present dish vary somewhat from the example in Washington, although the general composition is the same. Easily recognizable is the figure of the lamenting putto at the right. Taken from an engraving by Agostino Musi, called Agostino Veneziano after a drawing by Raphael, it was used by Xanto on a dish acquired by Arthur M. Sackler, sold Christie's New York, 1 June 1994, lot 23.
For an in depth study of the work of Xanto Avelli, the subject of a recent exhibition at The Wallace Collection, London, see J.V.G. Mallet, Xanto, Potter-Painter, Poet, Man of the Italian Renaissance, London, 2007. The present dish was not included in the listing of extant examples, Appendix C, as its existence was unknown at the time of publication. It will be included in an updated listing of Francesco Xanto Avelli da Rovigo's oeuvre.