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Dish with the Adoration of the Shepherds
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Dish with the Adoration of the Shepherds

Description Exhibitions Provenance Inscription Credit
Description This plate decorated with an historical scene may serve as the point of departure for introducing the category of Italian maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware) known as "istoriato" (with a story) ware, that became popular around 1515. Depicting historical, biblical, and mythological subjects, the scenes were often based on engravings reproducing paintings by famous masters.The present composition is taken from an engraving by Caraglio of a work by the famous Italian painter, Francesco Mazzola, known as Parmigianino (1503–40), whose designs were admired for their variety, liveliness, and gracefulness. Painters of istoriato treated the ceramic surface like a canvas to be covered with a narrative scene that often includes landscape and three-dimensional perspectival space. This was a departure from the traditional decoration of plates in which a central image was surrounded by a broad decorative rim.

Instead of seeing themselves merely as skilled craftsmen, some painters of istoriato aspired to be more learned, like their patrons, and became familiar with ancient history and myths known from such authors as Ovid and Virgil. They frequently signed and dated their plates on the back and sometimes added references (not always correct) to the sources of the depicted stories, probably for the benefit of their clients. Faenza was a leading center in the production of istoriato ware early in its development, while Urbino and the neighboring city of Castel Durante in the region known as the Marches led during the mid-16th century. Francesco Xanto Avelli was one of the leading masters of istoriato ware; his work is well represented in the Walters, for which see 48.1373.

Istoriato tableware was often made in large services on commission from private patrons, including for buyers outside Italy. See for example 48.1368, made for the Montmerency family. It was highly decorative but far more affordable than such luxury wares as Chinese porcelain then being imported. For more information on maiolica in general, see no. 48.1336

  • Déjà Vu? The Repeating Image in Renaissance and Baroque Art. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2007-2008.
  • Sharing Images: Renaissance Prints Into Maiolica and Bronze. National Gallery of Art, Washington. 2018.
Provenance Frederic Spitzer; Heinrich Wencke (?), Hamburg [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Seligman, Paris [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Henry Walters, Baltimore, May 7, 1908, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Inscriptions [Inscription] On the back, between the footring, in dark blue, a cartouche with the inscription: Historia / de sacrificium / Deo ; [Previous Collection inv. no.] 24.
Credit Acquired by Henry Walters, 1908

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ca. 1530-1540 (Renaissance)
earthenware with tin glaze (maiolica)
Accession Number
H: 2 3/8 × Diam: 10 3/16 in. (6 × 25.9 cm)


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