Lot 3
  • 3

An Urbino maiolica Istoriato dish from the Punic War series, probably workshop of Guido Durantino, circa 1545-60

50,000 - 80,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • ceramic
  • approximately 26.3cm., 10 3/8 in. diameter
painted with General Hannibal clambering over rocky terrain, facing towards a river, his foot soldiers in the rear holding flags and spears, the bare trees above them covered in icicles and snow, within an ochre band rim, the reverse inscribed in blue ' Annibal alla Ripe al gran/ fracasso / Audace mira; P trovare il / passo.', [Hannibal, on the river bank, looks bravely at the arduous and din rapids in order to find a ford] (for his troops), within concentric ochre bands


Christie's, 8th April 1974, lot 197.



Rudolf E.A. Drey, "Istoriato maiolica with scenes from the Second Punic War. Livy's history of Rome as source material", in Timothy Wilson, (ed.), Italian Renaissance Pottery, Papers written in association with a colloquium at the British Museum, London, 1991, p. 53, no. X;
A.V.B. Norman, Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Ceramics I, Pottery, Maiolica, Faience, Stoneware, London, 1976, p. 203, C101, mentioned.

Related Literature
Timothy Wilson, Maiolica Italian Renaissance Ceramics in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2016, pp. 208-209, no. 67; Dora Thornton and Timothy Wilson, Italian Renaissance Ceramics, A catalogue of the British Museum Collection, Vol. I, London, 2009, pp. 326-328, nos. 192-193, for dishes 2 and 3 in the series;
Timothy Wilson, Italian Maiolica of the Renaissance, Milan, 1996, pp. 289-292, no. 122;
J.V.G. Mallet, 'In Botega di Maestro Guido Durantino in Urbino', The Burlington Magazine, May 1987.

Catalogue Note

This dish belongs to one of the largest and most remarkable maiolica series produced in the 16th century. The series depicts episodes from the Second Punic War between the Ancient Carthage led by the General Commander-in-Chief Hannibal Barca, and Publius Cornelius Scipio’s armies of the Roman Republic.

Hannibal, the ‘father of strategy’ and unarguably one of the most celebrated generals of the ancient world, was the son of Hamilcar Barca, who led the Carthaginians in the First Punic War. Historians have disputed the size of Hannibal’s army but the highest estimates include 90,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry and 37 war elephants. As such it would have been one of the largest in the Hellenistic world. The army departed New Carthage (modern day Cartagena), Spain, for the invasion of Italy in the late spring of 218B.C.

The iconography of the maiolica series follows the text of Livy’s monumental work on the history of Rome ‘Ab Urbe Condita’, (From the Founding of the City).1 This dish shows an episode of Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps which is one of the most celebrated military achievements in ancient warfare. The Romans had presumed that the Alps were an impassable route and a natural blockade against any attack. Hannibal’s tactic to invade by passing the Alps was bold; as captured in the words of Livy, "The dreadful vision was now before their eyes: the towering peaks, the snow clad pinnacles soaring to the sky, the rude huts clinging to the rocks, beasts and cattle shrivelled and parched with cold, the people with their wild and ragged hair, all nature, animate and inanimate, stiff with frost."2

The descent from the Alps was the most dangerous part of the invasion. The cliffs on the Italian side were steeper but also, due to snow melting and thawing at a greater rate and refreezing at night it became almost impossible for the soldiers and elephants to keep their footing, "…they found themselves on the edge of a precipice - a narrow cliff falling away so sheer that even a light-armed soldier could hardly have got down it by feeling his way and clinging to such bushes and stumps as presented themselves."3 Though the army did successfully negotiate the pass, due to the snow, attacks by local tribes, and exhaustion of the troops, the losses were considerable.

The episode on this dish shows Hannibal and his troops trying to find a clearing in the rocks of the Alps from book 21, chapter 37 of Livy:

"Four days were spent over the rock, and the animals were almost starved to death, for the heights are mostly bare of vegetation, and what herbage there is is buried beneath snow. In the lower levels there were sunny villages and streams flowing through woods, and spots more deserving of human inhabitants."

The recorded pieces from this large commission can be divided into two groups. The first and earliest group of fifteen remaining dishes and bowls, including the present example, are each inscribed with a rhyming couplet to the reverse. A feature of this early group is an oval-shaped area in the sky of the landscape scene which appears to be painted in a slightly paler-tone.4 The final group includes three tri-lobed basins, now in the collection of the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, numbered 41, 43 and 144 respectively and inscribed;5 and a group of plates with inscriptions including numbers between 47 and 114 of which 26 are currently recorded.6

No graphic sources appear to have been discovered and the details of the painters who worked on the service are unknown. The painting throughout the recorded pieces is generally consistent and because of this it has been suggested that, in spite of its large size, the series was the work of a single painter. The painter is classified by John Mallet in his essay, (op. cit.), as being in his sixth category of painters.7 Mallet comments that the same hand may have worked on the armorial Salviati service painted predominantly with landscapes, where he 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’.8 Due to the obvious demands of such a large service it is possible that additional hands may have been involved in the work. The commission post-dates a slightly earlier series painted by Francesco Durantino in the workshop of Guido di Merlino with scenes of the campaigns of the Roman general Scipio Africanus during the Punic Wars.9

It seems probable that a coat-of-arms was originally intended on the earlier dishes but was abandoned. The superb quality of the painting throughout the series and rhyming couplets supports the theory that they were almost certainly once part of a princely service, though the recipient for whom the service was originally intended is not recorded. There is an argument that it may have been made for, or was acquired by the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany.10 It is known that by 1784 the three Bargello basins were in the possession of the Medici in Florence as they appear in the inventory of the collection, published by Giovanni Conti, “La maiolica nel Museo del Bargello: Genesi e fortuna di una raccolta.” in Faenza 55, 1969, pp. 55-79. In the 1784 listing there are other dishes recognisable as being from the Hannibal series.

Remarkably, the service is mentioned in a letter of 1735 written by Ernst Ludwig Burckhardt, Governor of Maggiatal whilst visiting Locarno in Switzerland:

"At Locarno I was shown some remarkable things. These included a cupboard full of maiolica pottery with the history of Hannibal, for which the owners, the Orelli brothers, were offered a price equal to the best silver: that is, they were offered the weight of these plates and dishes in ‘Philips’, although the sequence of stories is not complete and some pieces are missing. This pottery belonged many years ago to a Grand Duke of Florence, whose palace caught fire. A man from Locarno (in fact from Centovalli)[…] rescued the pottery for himself and then brought it home. At that time the late father of these brothers was magistrate in Centovalli and the pottery was offered to him for purchase[…] He therefore wrote to the Grand Duke of Florence and received the reply, that if the history was still complete it should be sent back to him, but if some pieces were already broken, they could keep it. It thus remained in Locrno…"11

In all likelihood, the pieces that Burckhardt saw in 1735 were numbered examples considering that he notices gaps in the series, though it is unclear how or why the portion of the service was moved to Switzerland.

Hannibal was a popular subject in the Art of Renaissance Europe and was not restricted to painting on maiolica. A particularly early rendition of the Punic Wars are the remarkable frescoes which decorate the Hall of Hannibal of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome, traditionally attributed to the painter Jacopo Ripanda (15th century – 1516). In 1561, Ercole Gonzaga (1505-1653) Cardinal and Regent of Mantua came close to acquiring a set of Brussels tapestries with the subject of Hannibal; a series of five tapestries from this period are now in the Cathedral of Zamora, Spain.12 The story and military genius of Hannibal is shrouded in both myth and legend. Most historic sources about the General are Roman, who considered him one of the greatest enemies Rome had faced. The present dish is a rare survival from an earlier series of illustrious quality, depicting one of the most famed moments in ancient war.


1. Titus Livius (Livy)’s monumental work Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City), comprised approximately 142 books, of which 35 have survived together with fragments from ten further books including the accounts of the Second Punic War (Books 21 – 30.) See Drey, op. cit., 1991, p. 56, note 2.

2. Livy, book 21, chapter 32.

3. Livy, book 21, chapter 36.

4. Thornton and Wilson, op. cit, p. 326. In addition to those that Drey cites, Wilson, 2016, p. 352, no. 67 footnote 3 adds that one is in the Museu de Arte de São Paolo; one in a private collection, published by Carmen Ravanelli Guidotti, “Protagonisti del collezionismo della ceramica a Faenza tra ‘800 e ‘900.” in Faenza 96, 2010, pp. 23-83; and another sold at Christie’s London, 24th May 2011, lot 34.

5. See Giovanni Conti, Museo Nazionale di Firenze, Palazzo del Bargello, Catalogo delle maioliche, Florence, 1971, nos. 2, 8 and 10.

6. Wilson, op. cit., 2016, illustrates number 47, the first and largest of the numbered dishes, depicting Hannibal encountering Roman troops led by Consul Publius Cornelius on the Ticino River.

7. See J.V.G. Mallet, op. cit., p. 294.

8. Painted in the 1550s, it is not certain which member of the Salviati service was commissioned for. It could perhaps 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.

9. See Thornton and Wilson op. cit., pp. 314-316, no. 185 for a dish from this earlier series depicting Scipio leaving New Carthage, and for a listing of other known dishes. The authors suggest that the later Hannibal series may have been made in competition with this series depicting Scipio.

10. Thornton and Wilson, op. cit., p. 326.

11. Quoted from Thornton and Wilson, op. cit., pp. 326-327.

12. See Clifford M. Brown (Et. Al.) Tapestries for the courts of Federico II, Ercole, and Ferrante Gonzaga 1522-63, Seattle, 1996, pp. 70-71, fig. 17, where the authors reproduce a series of letters between Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (1517–1586) and Ercole regarding the offer of a set of Hannibal subject tapestries. ‘Hannibal’s Oath’, ‘The Crossing of the Alps’, ‘Hannibal in Italy’, ‘The Plunder of Cannae’ and ‘Mago, Hannibal’s Messenger in Carthage’.