Lot 2
  • 2

An Urbino maiolica Istoriato dish, piatto da pompa, probably the Fontana workshop,, circa 1550-60

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • ceramics
  • 46cm., 18in. diameter
perhaps by the painter of the Hannibal series, with a large scene of roman soldiers in the midst of battle holding spears, swords and flags, some soldiers beneath them wounded, the background painted with further groups of soldiers holding similar weapons and trumpets, before a lake or river and a distant town, within an ochre band rim, inscribed in blue to the reverse 'Del[le] [tr]ombe al gran suon se stessi occidono', [to the sound of the trumpets they kill themselves]


Galerie Vandermeersch, Paris;
Antichità Atomani, Pesaro;
Collezione privata Fiorano, Modena.


Related literature

Carmen Ravanelli Guidotti, “Protagonisti del collezionismo della ceramica a Faenza tra ‘800 e ‘900.” in Faenza 96, 2010, pp. 23-83;
Timothy Wilson, Italian Maiolica of the Renaissance, Milan, 1996, pp. 289-292, no. 122;
Rudolf E.A. Drey, “Istoriato maiolica with scenes from the Second Punic War. Livy's history of Rome as source material”, Timothy Wilson, (ed.), Italian Renaissance Pottery, Papers written in association with a colloquium at the British Museum, London, 1991;
J.V.G. Mallet, 'In Botega di Maestro Guido Durantino in Urbino', The Burlington Magazine, May 1987, pp. 284-298.


The dish has been restored but is in good appearance and does not need further attention. There is a crack that runs vertically from the rim at 1 o'clock to the rim at 7 o'clock. To the reverse there is minimal areas of fill to the crack line. To the front face there is very subtle over-painting to the painted scene along the line. From this extends five fine hairline cracks located at the bowl of the dish. To front face of bowl there is a layer of lacquer. There is a short hairline crack at the rim, located at 5 o'clock which finishes before the well of the bowl. There is a similar sized crack at 8 o'clock only visible to the reverse, which is probably a glaze crazing crack.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The closest source for comparison is the Punic War or Hannibal series which was also probably produced in the Fontana workshop. The treatment of the figures, theme, and overall composition of the dish is analogous to the series. The unknown painter of the Hannibal commission is classified by John Mallet in his essay, 'In Botega di Maestro Guido Durantino in Urbino', as being in the last of his six categories of painters.1 The author notes the painter as being ‘particularly admired as a landscape artist, his fine sense of colour and the soft touch of his brush finding free expression’; and that the painter may have also worked on pieces from the Salviati service.2 The Salviati service is remarkable in istoriato painting as it features, almost exclusively, landscapes devoid of figures. Mallet lists that at least two undated pieces refer to the painter in his sixth category as ‘M˚Guido Fontana’. One is the remarkable dish from the Lehman collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art painted with the Sacking of Rome.3 The other is the dish painted with The Contest between the Muses and the Pierides, in the Museo Civico di Modena.4 When comparing the inscriptions of both dishes with the present dish the calligraphy is strikingly similar, although this is not necessarily a definitive indication of a common authorship of the painting.

The complexity of the battling figures in the scene suggests that the painter worked from an engraving or print. Currently it is not known if a graphic source exists for the present dish, as is the case for the surviving pieces from the Hannibal commission. The inscription on the reverse 'Del[le] [tr]ombe al gran suon se stessi occidono', [To the sound of the trumpets they kill each other], does not clarify the subject. The sounding of trumpets was the typical start for any Roman battle but the dish provides few distinguishing features that can place it to a specific episode from history. It is probable that the dish belonged to a series which would have provided a context to the battle scene and the inscription, and as such may have originally been part of a thematic sequence like the Hannibal series. The dish may even represent a battle from the Punic wars. One episode where trumpets played a particular vital part was the Battle of Zama in 202B.C. which marked the end of the Second Punic Wars. Though if the subject were the Battle of Zama, this would be a later episode than the period the series deals with. As recounted by Livy:

“While he was still speaking to his Carthaginians and the various tribal leaders addressing their troops […] from the Roman line the horns and trumpets blared, raising such a din that the elephants panicked and charged their own lines, especially on the left wing where the Moors and Numidians were stationed. Masinissa quickly added to the general panic and thus robbed that section of the line of its cavalry support. […] For by pulling back to the lines of regular infantry to avoid being crushed by the elephants, the skirmishers opened clear lanes between them and then caught them in cross fire by hurling spears against them from both sides. The javelins of the regular infantry kept up a hail of missiles from every quarter.”5

The absence of a ‘ghost’ cartouche left for a coat of arms, brevity of the verse, and the emission of a number before the verse, can exclude this dish from that particular series.

Another interpretation of the verse is that the scene depicts a battle amongst Romans, “kill each other”, and therefore could be an episode from the Roman Civil Wars. Such iconography themed on Caesar’s Civil War, or Gallic war was incorporated into pieces form the ‘Spanish service’ though the most ambitious pieces in the series focus on triumphal events.6

It is interesting to compare the present dish with a tri-lobed basin currently on loan to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Painted with infantry soldiers in a grassy-hill landscape, it bears resemblance to the present dish.7 Of the recorded pieces attributed to the workshop of Guido Durantino similar examples with scenes of battle include a bowl painted with a scene of two groups of soldiers on horseback meeting is in the British Museum, London;8 and a bowl attributed to the workshop of Guido, perhaps representing Judas Maccabaeus fighting against Antiochus IV in the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge; a similar dish inscribed ‘Machabeus pugnat/Contra Antiochu(m)' is in the Louvre.9

Guido Durantino is first recorded in Urbino on 9th May 1516, when he witnessed a document for his uncle, Simone, a skinner (pelliparius). Guido was a practicing potter in Urbino by June 1519 as his name appears again, this time in a marriage document at the Duke’s Chapel of San Francesco between himself, ‘Guidonem q. Nicolai pelliparii figulum Durantinum habitatorem Urbini’ [Guido son of the late Nicolò the skinner, a potter from Castel Durante and dweller in Burno] and Giovanna, the daughter of Bernardino Vici of Urbino.10 In 1523 he, along with several other potters, was contracted to provide 5000 paving tiles for Francesco Maria (1490-1538), Duke of Urbino. By 1541 he, together with his sons, had adopted the surname ‘Fontana’,11 and in the same decade Guido was a priore of an Urbino confraternity.

From its early stages of production the Fontana workshop enjoyed patronage amongst the highest ranks of Italian and European nobility. In 1535 the workshop produced two celebrated armorial istoriato services for Cardinal Antoine Duprat (1463-1535), Chancellor of France, painted appropriately with religious subjects; and Anne, Duke of Montmorency (1493-1567), Grand-maître and later Constable of France, a service with mythological scenes. These prestigious commissions were the earliest istoriato maiolica services produced for foreign dignitaries.12 Other eminent commissions included the armorial istoriato service for Giacomo Nordi, Bishop of Urbino (1523-1540).13 The factory was favoured by Guidobaldo II Duke of Urbino (1538-1574). The Duke ordered an armorial service as a gift to the Augustinian friar Andrea Ghetti da Volterra; the service, which was produced between 1559-65, was painted with episodes of Roman history and the Duke’s arms which included the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which the Duke was elected to in 1559.14 He also commissioned a gift for Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), the magnificent so-called Spanish service.15 It seems reasonable to assume that the success that these Princely commissions brought to the workshop allowed Guido to attract the best maiolica painters in Urbino.16

This remarkable dish typifies the taste for Roman History in mid-16th century European art. The earliest Renaissance maiolica included pottery decorated with fighting warriors, whether from antiquity, the Old Testament or the history of Rome. The proliferation of Roman subjects following Charles V's campaign and the Sack of Rome implies a connection between the subject matter depicted and the interests of the recipients of these magnificent services. Whilst scenes from classical antiquity might allude to the recipient’s education and understanding of literature, depiction of Rome's glorious past would surely show the princely owners power as a maker of war or bringer of peace.'

Sotheby’s would like to thank Professor Carmen Ravanelli Guidotti for her assistance in researching this lot.


1Mallet, op. cit., p. 294.

2The service may have been made for Jacopo Alamanno Salviati, or his father Alamanno. For further reading on the Salviati service see Michael J. Brody, “Terra d'Urbino tutta dipinta a paesi con l'armi de' Salviati': the paesi service in the 1583 inventory of Jacopo di Alamanno Salviati (1537-1586).” in Faenza N. 4-6, 2000, p. 37, pl. iv.

3Jörg Rasmussen, Italian Majolica in the Robert Lehman Collection, New York, 1978, pp. 166-168, no. 97. Acc. no. 1975.1.1120. The dish, which is inscribed ‘Fatte in Urbino in Botega de/ M˚.Guido fontana/ VasaRo:.’ was formerly in the collection of Sir Andrew Fountaine, Narford Hall, sold at Christie’s in June 1884, lot 58.

4Francesco Liverani, “Le ceramiche del Museo Civico di Modena” in Faenza N 1-5, 1971, pp. 46-48, tav. xxi-xxiii.

5Titus Livius (Livy)’s monumental work Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City),

6See Wilson, op. cit., pp. 371-383, nos. 150-152.

7Object number. LI192.3. The exterior of the basin on a fictive sheet of paper is inscribed, ‘picciol colle il Roma[no] susidio tiene/ ma bruto ardito e saggio il mo[n]te assale/ grave infamia à roma[n] co[n] minor bene’, [A little hill holds the Roman reinforcements, but Brutus, brave and clever, attacks the mountain - a severe disgrace for the Roman[s] with little advantage]. The cataloguer suggests the painter of the Hannibal series may have painted the basin.

8Thornton and Wilson, op.cit., pp. 329-330, no. 194.

9The first is published by Julia Poole, Italian maiolica and incised slipware in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Cambridge, 1995, p. 368-369, no.406; Jeanne Giacomotti, Catalogue des majoliques des musées nationaux, Paris, 1974, pp. 342-343, no. 1045.

10Mallet, op. cit., p. 285.

11Dora Thornton and Timothy Wilson, Italian Renaissance Ceramics, A catalogue of the British Museum Collection, Vol. I, London, 2009, p. 297.

12Ibid., pp. 296-299, no. 174, and for a listing of known surviving pieces from the service.

13The Giacomo Nordi service is discussed C.Fiocco, G.Gherardi and L.Sfeir-Fakhri, Majoliques Italiennes du musées des arts decoratifs de Lyon, Collection Gillet, Faton, 2001, pp. 240-242. A dish from the service was sold in these rooms, 24th May 2006, lot 4.

14See the large dish painted with a scene of Mucius Scaevola before King Porsenna in the Victoria and Albert museum, London, Museum no. 4728-1901. For a bowl painted with the Bull of Perillus, perhaps from the same service see Dora Thornton and Timothy Wilson, op. cit., pp. 332-333, no. 196.

15For expansive reading on the Spanish service see Timothy Wilson, Maiolica Italian Renaissance Ceramics in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2016, pp. 288-291, no. 103.

16As John Mallet says in his essay on the workshop, ‘… so far as production of Istoriato wares are concerned Guido Durantino’s workshop employed in succession several of the very best painters available’, Mallet, op. cit., p. 294