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Work Plate (Abimelech Spying on Isaac and Rebecca) with the coat of arms of Isabella d'Este-Gonzaga, Marchioness of Mantua

Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance

Assiette aux armes d'Isabelle d'Este-Gonzague, marquise de Mantoue (1474 - 1539) : Abimélech épiant Isaac et Rébecca,

© 2010 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts

Ducrot B.

This plate is one of twenty-two surviving pieces of an illustrated earthenware dinner service made in the workshop of Nicolà da Urbino. It is thought to have been a gift from Eleonora, duchess of Urbino, to her mother Isabella d'Este-Gonzaga, well known as a patron of the arts. Apart from Isabella's coat of arms, the plate also bears her motto, NEC SPE NEC METU (neither hope nor fear). The scene is taken from Genesis and is inspired by a fresco by Raphael's studio in the Vatican Loggie.

An illustrious destiny

This plate is one of twenty-two pieces, now held in several museums, known to have survived of a famous illustrated earthenware service. In the 16th century, such earthenware services began to rival ones in gold or silver, which were naturally much more expensive. The coat of arms and motto indicate the owner. In the top right is a shield with the coat of arms of Francesco Gonzaga, fourth marquis of Mantua, and Isabella d'Este, a well-known patron of the arts. On the floor lies a cartouche inscribed with the words NEC SPE NEC METU (neither hope nor fear), the motto of the marchioness. The service was made for Isabella after the death of her husband in 1519. It was commissioned by her daughter Eleonora, who had become duchess of Urbino on marrying Francesco Maria della Rovere.

"Istoriato" illustrated pottery: a new departure in ceramics

The whole surface of the plate is painted with a depiction of a scene from Genesis. Isaac and Rebecca are embracing beneath the loggia of a palace, unaware that Abimelech, king of the Philistines, is watching them from an upper window. The painter imitated this scene from a composition in the Vatican Loggie by Raphael's studio. Istoriato ware, illustrated pottery telling a story, was first seen in Italy and proved one of the country's most original contributions to the art of earthenware ceramics. Majolica ware was directly associated with painting, and the potters were very familiar with art, thanks to the numerous engravings found in every workshop. This particular scene is unusual in that no engraving of it is known - proof that a great deal of collaborative work went on between the workshops (botegha) of the artists and those of the potters.

A famous workshop

Urbino, Raphael's birthplace, was one of the major centers of production of illustrated pottery in the 16th century. The style, thought to have been brought there by the artists of Casteldurante, was made very fashionable by Urbino from 1520 onwards, thanks to its numerous workshops, which were soon famed far and wide. Nicolà di Gabriele Sbraga, who signed his works Nicolà da Urbino after the town where he worked between 1520 and 1537 or 1538, was one of Urbino's most famous artists. Specialists admire his finely balanced compositions, the skilful effects of architectural perspective, and the delicacy of his palette, dominated by cool tones. This plate illustrates all of these aspects of his work.


Giacomotti J., Catalogue des majoliques des musées nationaux, Paris, Editions des musées nationaux, 1974, p.249-250, n 819.
Béguin S. (dir.), Le studiolo d'Isabelle d'Este, Paris, Editions des musées nationaux, 1975, p.9-10.
Ennes P., Musée du Louvre. Département des Objets d'art. Céramique du Moyen-Age et de la Renaissance, Paris, Editions des musées nationaux, 1983 (Petit Guide des grands musées 91), p.13.
Louvre. Guide du visiteur. Les Objets d'art. Moyen-Age et Renaissance, R.M.N., 1994, p.109.
Durand J., Le Louvre. Les Objets d'art, Paris, Editions Scala, 1995, p.57.
Les collections du Louvre (Anthologie des collections), R.M.N., 1999, p.232.

Technical description

  • Attribué à Nicola di Gabriele SBRAGA, dit Nicola da URBINO

    Assiette aux armes d'Isabelle d'Este-Gonzague, marquise de Mantoue (1474 - 1539) : Abimélech épiant Isaac et Rébecca,

    Vers 1524 - 1525


  • Faïence

    H. 4 cm; Diam. 27 cm

  • Legs baronne Salomon de Rothschild, 1922 , 1922

    d'après une composition de Raphaël aux Loges du Vatican

    OA 7578

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Gallery of The Hunts of Maximilian
    Room 19

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