Pocket guide to Roman Emperors, £6.99
Height: 8.000 cm
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
From Deruta, Umbria, Italy, around AD 1490-1525
'Nothing is gained by sleeping'
This maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware) dish is painted with a woman in profile, and a scroll inscribed PÊDORMIRENONSAQUISTA ('nothing is gained by sleeping').
When applied to maiolica, the term 'belle donne' (Italian 'beautiful women') usually refers to a category of dishes or plates bearing female heads and a scroll inscribed with a name or motto. They were produced in large numbers in several Italian pottery centres between around 1520 and 1550, for a wide variety of clients.
The female image is idealized to such a degree that it is unlikely to be an accurate likeness of a particular woman. However, the names, either with or without adjective or mottoes, are thought to refer to contemporary women, often local worthies or local beauties, as suggested by a contemporary sonnet addressed to a potter in Todi, not far from Deruta. Those pieces with a moralizing inscription are not belle donne wares in the true sense, but are part of the artistic tradition of portraying female images with a moralizing statement, often one that appears to be specifically addressed to a female audience.
M. Ajmar and D. Thornton, 'When is a portrait not a portrait? Belle Donne on maiolica and the Renaissance praise of local beauties' in The image of the individual:-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)