This impressive piece is an important addition to the canon of the painter identified by J.V.G Mallet as the 'Painter of the Apollo Basin'; see J.V.G. Mallet, 'Il Pittore del Bacile di Apollo', in Gian Carlo Bojani (ed.), La Maiolica Italiana del Cinquecento, Il Lustro Eugubino e l'Istoriato del Ducato di Urbino, Florence, 2002, pp. 89-90. The painter is named after a piece dated 1532 in the Pesaro Museum (published M. Mancini Della Chiara, Maioliche del Museo Civico di Pesaro, 1979, no.61).
The work of this painter - and of the 'Milan Marsyas' painter identified by the same authority - are essentially separated out from the group of wares formerly attributed to 'Nicola Pellipario', the main body of which is now given to Nicola da Urbino.
Further suggestions of additions to the canon of the painter of the Apollo Basin have been made subsequently, three discussed by E. Thornton and T. Wilson, Italian Renaissance Ceramics, A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection, Vol. II, 2009, pp. 528-29, no. 328 footnote, and three by Carmen Ravanelli Guidotti, in Faenza XCVII, 2011, p.2 5. Another addition was sold at Christie's London, 5th July 2012, lot 76.
Dated works by this painter range from 1528 and 1532; this is the first piece to appear bearing the date 1533. Apart from a biblical caption on the piece sold in 2012, no other piece has any inscription or signature; in the context, the script capital B on this piece is all the more intriguing, and perhaps merits further research.
Other works attributed by Mallet to this painter, who seems likely to have worked mainly in Urbino, include a superb dish in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Salting Bequest) with Apollo riding in his chariot inside a wheel of the zodiac, and two in the British Museum, one with the Return of Judith, formerly attributed to Nicola da Urbino, (E. Thornton and T. Wilson, Italian Renaissance Ceramics, Vol. I, 2009, pp. 292, no. 172), and a bowl painted and lustred with The Expulsion from Paradise, op. cit., no. 328.
Though much maiolica was painted in Urbino and then decorated with lustre in Gubbio, the lustring of the British Museum bowl is an integral part of the decoration, and thus it seems likely that that piece was both painted and lustred in Gubbio. Furthermore, all four of the 1531 pieces attributed by Mallet to the painter of the Apollo Basin are lustred, so it is possible to make a case here for an attribution to Gubbio, despite the absence of lustre; though again, perhaps the elegantly light potting and the ambitious form of our lot point back to Urbino.
The source print of the Rape of Hippodamia is by Enea Vico, and the dated versions of the print bear the date of 1542. Though this seems at first a problem, this is not the only case where the undated versions may well be earlier than the dated; again, the authority here is J.V.G. Mallet, in his paper 'Considerazioni su Nicola da Urbino e le fonti delle sue composizioni su maiolica', in Gian Carlo Bojani, I Delle Rovere nell'Italia delle corti, Atti del convegno di Urbania 1999, IV, p.95
Derived from ancient Greek Mythology, the wedding banquet of Hippodamia and Pirithous, King of the Lapiths, was attended by Eurytus, a drunken centaur. Eurytus sought to kidnap and rape the bride, subsequently igniting a war between the two races. Indeed, the myth is eloquently recounted in Homer's Odyssey:
'It was wine that made foolish even the centaur, glorious Eurytion, in the hall of great hearted Peirithous, when he went to the Lapithae; and when his heart had been made foolish with wine, in his madness he wrought evil in the house of Peirithous. Then grief seized the heroes, and they leapt up and dragged him forth through the gateway.'1
The Vitelli were papal vicars in Città di Castello, and it seems likely that their arms are intended, though as is common in maiolica, the arms are incorrectly rendered, the quarterings being reversed.
1. Homer, Odyssey, (trans.) Murray, A. T. (1919), London: Harvard university Press