Italian Renaissance masterpieces, £19.99
Diameter: 11.300 cm (lip)
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Maiolica storage jar
From the district of Florence, Italy, about AD 1460-80
Inspired by an engraving?
This maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware) storage jar is painted in blue, orange and purple with a stylized floral and leaf pattern and on one side with a medallion portrait of a man wearing a tall hat. The medallion portrait resembles a Florentine engraving of around 1460, captioned 'EL GRAN TURCO' ('The Great Turk'), perhaps after Antonio del Pollaiuolo (1432/33-98). The image itself goes back to Pisanello's medal of 1438 depicting the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaeologus (reigned 1421-48).
Painters of maiolica used a broad range of sources for their work: these might include medals, drawings, engravings and paintings, as well as gems, book illuminations and sculpture. They also frequently adapted and altered these sources; only rarely can a design be attributed to a specific source. If the engraving of The Great Turk were indeed the origin of this design, this would be among the earliest examples of a maiolica design following an engraving.
The leaf pattern is a typical decoration found on lustred wares produced in Valencia, Spain, which were frequently exported to Tuscany in the fifteenth century. This jar represents an early attempt to rival Valencian products. The figurative painting is however an Italian innovation.
D. Thornton, 'Maiolica production in Renaissance Italy' in Pottery in the making: world-7 (London, The British Museum Press, 1997), pp. 116-21
T. Wilson, Ceramic art of the Italian Ren, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)