The inscription on the reverse translates as 'Hannibal breaks the Gauls on the bank of the river, whilst Hanno scatters them from the rear'. The present dish shows the Battle of the Trebia (December 218 B.C.), in which Hannibal and his cavalry commander, Hanno, defeated the combined forces of the Gauls and Romans under Titus Sempronius Longus and P. Cornelius Scipio (Africanus) by a clever ambush.
This dish forms part of the important series depicting episodes from the Second Punic War between the Romans and the Carthaginians in 219-217 B.C. The narrative illustrated on the pieces in the series follows the story as recounted by Livy, but the scenes do not correspond to the woodcuts in the Italian translation of Livy,1 and it appears that no print source has been found for any of the known pieces in the series. By most accounts, Hannibal's invasion force which was assembled in Spain included 100,000 men and 37 or 38 elephants, of which two are unusually depicted here.
The series is partially listed and discussed by Rudolf Drey.2 It is not known which artists worked on the series, although it appears that more than one hand was involved.3 One of the features of the series is that some pieces have an oval-shaped patch of the sky which is a slightly paler hue, suggesting that the inclusion of a coat-of-arms was once intended but abandoned. The ambition of the series and consistent quality of the scenes and the inscriptions on the reverses all suggest that it was almost certainly once a princely service. The original destination of the service does not appear to have been documented. Thornton and Wilson argue that it is highly likely that the service once belonged to the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany.4 The 1784 Medici inventory appears to contain plates from the service.5
1. Livy's epic history of Rome Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City), comprising approximately 142 books, of which 35 books have survived, including the account of the events of the Second Punic War, see Rudolf Drey, ibid., pp. 56, note 2.
2. Drey, ibid., pp. 51-61.
3. The unknown painter is classified by John Mallet in his sixth category of painters working in Guido Durantino's workshop. See J.V.G. Mallet, 'In Botega di Maestro Guido Durantino in Urbino', The Burlington Magazine, May 1987, p. 294.
4. D. Thornton and T. Wilson, Italian Renaissance Ceramics, A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection, London, 2009, p. 326.
5. Giovanni Conti, 'La Maiolica nel Museo del Bargello, Genesi e Fortuna di una Raccolta', Faenza, N. 3-6, 1969, p. 77, nos. 527-534.