Urbino, last quarter of the 16th century
It measures diameter 17.12 in; foot diameter 11.53 in; height 1.88 in (43.5 cm; 29.3 cm; 4.8 cm).
State of conservation: wear and a few small minimal detachments of enamel, chipping on the raised areas, peeling of enamel at the brim on the back.
This large, shallow basin is equipped with a wide and convex well. It is umbonate with a contoured center. The brim, short and flat, is enclosed in a double rounded and barely raised edge. The basin has a flat base without rims; it has a slightly concave center in correspondence to the well.
The shape takes inspiration from the basins associated with the metal forged amphora pourers that traditionally adorned the credenza. These were used from the Middle Ages to wash hands during banquets. Two or three people washed their hands in the same basin and it was considered an honor to wash one’s hands with an illustrious person.
The decoration is arranged in concentric bands with, in the center of the umbo, an unidentified shield on a blue background: an oval banded in gold with a blue head, a gold star and a field with a burning pitcher.
Rings of faux pods separate the center from a series of grotesque motifs of small birds and masks. These go around the basin and are, in fact, faithfully repeated on the brim. The main decoration develops inside the flounce of the basin, which sees alternating symmetrical figures of winged harpies and chimeras. The ornamentation, outlined in orange, green and blue, stands out against the white enamel background.
This decorative style, defined since the Renaissance as “grottesche” or “raffaellesche”, refers to the decorations introduced after the discovery of the paintings of the Domus Aurea towards the end of the fifteenth century. The discovery of Nero's palace, buried inside Colle Oppio by damnatio memoriae, occurred by chance when a young Roman, in 1480, fell into a large crack which had opened in the ground on the hill, thus finding himself in a cave with walls covered with painted figures.
The great artists present in the papal city, including Pinturicchio, Ghirlandaio, Raffaello, immediately visited these caves. The decorations found there soon became a decorative subject of immense success: the term grotesque, with the meaning of “unusual,” “caricatured,” or “monstrous,” was later commented by Vasari in 1550 as “una spezie di pittura licenziose e ridicole molto”(“a very licentious and ridiculous kind of painting”).
The decorations “a grottesche” also widely circulated in ceramic factories, through the use of engravings, variously interpreted according to the creativity of the artists or the requests of the client.
Our basin is reflected in similar artifacts produced at the end of the sixteenth century by the factories of the Urbino district. See the series of basins preserved in the main French museums, among which the closest in morphology is that of the Campana collection of the Louvre (Inv. OA1496); this however has a more complex figure decoration, while the decoration of our specimen is sober and with a watercolor style.
The style, sure in its execution, approaches decorative results still close to the works produced around the middle of the sixteenth century by the Fontana workshop. The decoration is closely linked to their taste, which later finds its natural outlet, through the work of Antonio, also in the Patanazzi workshop. Studies show the contiguity between the two workshops due to the kinship and collaboration between the masters Orazio Fontana and Antonio Patanazzi, both trained in the workshop of Guido Fontana il Durantino. It is therefore almost natural that their works, often created according to similar typologies and under the aegis of the same commissions, are not always easily distinguishable, so much so that the presence of historiated or “grottesche” works by Orazio is documented and preserved in Antonio Patanazzi's workshop. Given that the studies have always emphasized the collaboration between several hands in the context of the shops, it is known that the most ancient “grottesche” works thus far known, can be dated from 1560, when the Fontana shop created the so-called Servizio Spagnolo (Spanish Service) and how, from that moment on, this ornamentation became one of the most requested by high-ranking clients. We remember the works created for the Granduchi di Toscana, when Flaminio Fontana along with his uncle Orazio supplied ceramics to Florence, and, later, other commissions of considerable importance: those for the service of the Duchi d’Este or for the Messina Farmacia of Roccavaldina, associated with the Patanazzi workshop when, now after 1580, Antonio Patanazzi began to sign his own work.
Thus, in our basin, the presence of masks hanging from garlands, a theme of more ancient memory, is associated in the work with more advanced stylistic motifs, such as the hatching of the chimeras and harpies. These are found here on the front with the wings painted in two ornate ways. In addition, the theme of the birds on the edge completes the decoration along the thin brim and can be seen as representing an early style typical of the Urbino district during a period of activity and collaboration between the two workshops. Later, a more “doll-like” decorative choice, typical of the end of the century and the beginning of the seventeenth century, characterized the period of the Patanazzi workshop under the direction of Francesco.
Philippe Morel, Il funzionamento simbolico e la critica delle grottesche nella seconda metà del Cinquecento, in: Marcello Fagiolo, (a cura di), Roma e l'antico nell'arte e nella cultura del Cinquecento, Roma, Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1985, pagg. 149 -178.
Marco Spallanzani, Maioliche di Urbino nelle collezioni di Cosimo I, del cardinale Ferdinando e di Francesco I de’ Medici, “Faenza” 1979, IV, pp.115-116.
Franco Negroni, Una famiglia di ceramisti Urbinati: i Patanazzi, “Faenza”, LXXXIV, 1998, 1-3, p. 104-115.
Carola Fiocco - Gherardi Gabriella, I Patanazzi: alla ricerca di Antonio; la scodella del Maldonado, in "Faenza", bollettino del Museo internazionale delle ceramiche in Faenza, XCV, 2009, 1-6, p. 64.
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