The Wallace Collection

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Lustred maiolica dish, Women Bathing, Maestro Giorgio Andreoli’s workshop, Gubbio, Italy, 1525
Reverse of C66
Reverse of C66
Treasure of the Month - July 2013

Lustred maiolica dish, Women Bathing, Maestro Giorgio Andreoli’s workshop, Gubbio, Italy, 1525

This spectacular dish, combining a delightful and intriguing central scene with skilful painting and great technical accomplishment, is one of the masterpieces of Italian Renaissance tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica). From the inscription in golden lustre on its elaborately decorated back we know that it was made in Maestro Giorgio Andreoli’s workshop in Gubbio in 1525. Indeed, the information is even more precise. The gold and ruby red lustre, applied and fired in a third and final firing of the dish, was added on 6 April 1525. It is unusual to find such specific information, giving a glimpse beyond the work of art to the mechanics of workshop production.
At the centre, a group of young women bathe in an ornate cistern in a secluded glade. A view of a distant town is framed by dense groups of dark-leaved trees. On the left, a river widens as it leads the eye through the landscape to the mountainous terrain beyond. How should we interpret this intriguing scene? Why was the sophisticated cistern, its fountain heads and swags inspired by sculptural reliefs from classical antiquity, installed in such a remote rural location? Why is it on two levels? Why are the women bathing there? The women are arranged in three groups, each modelled on a different print source depicting a mythological subject. The three women at the centre, their arms entwined, are inspired by Marcantonio Raimondi’s Three Graces, the subject and the composition after the antique.
The group on the left is taken from Raimondi’s Judgement of Paris after Raphael, the group on the right from Diana and Actaeon by Giovanni Battista Palumba. A narrow band of lustrous beaded ornament separates this scene from the broad border.
The gloriously dynamic border of fantastical grotesques, inspired by classical ornament, reflects the Roman love of such motifs, found, for example,  adorning the walls in Nero’s Golden House in Rome, known to artists since the late 15th century. Intertwined trophies of arms, fruit-filled cornucopiae, birds, musical instruments and surreal creatures terminating in scrolling tendrils may initially appear haphazard, but this impression belies a carefully balanced symmetry. The date 1525 and ‘ama la virtu’ (love virtue) are inscribed on the right. Maestro Giorgio Andreoli’s workshop was renowned for its ruby red lustre. This wonderful dish is one of a number of sumptuous pieces made there in 1524-5, recently attributed wholly or in part to the pottery painter Francesco Xanto Avelli da Rovigo (Xanto), a fascinating personality whose work is well represented in the Wallace Collection. The border and the cistern front are probably by Francesco Urbini. More works by or attributed to Xanto or the Andreoli workshop are displayed here; Xanto’s magnificent dish, The Triumph of Neptune and Venus, is to the left of the chimneypiece in the Sixteenth-Century Gallery. They reflect Richard Wallace’s taste for Renaissance art of the highest quality and inventiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gallery Talks
Monday 1 and Tuesday 23 July at 1pm with Suzanne Higgott.

Further Reading
J.V.G. Mallet, Xanto: Pottery-painter, Poet, Man of the Italian Renaissance, exh. cat., The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London, 2007
A.V.B. Norman, Catalogue of Ceramics 1: Pottery, Maiolica, Faience, Stoneware, The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London, 1976
Elisa P. Sani, Italian Renaissance Maiolica, V&A Publishing, London, 2012