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Ewer basin

" 1993 RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts

Ducrot Brigitte

As well as "istoriato" (narrative) table services, Urbino produced large services decorated with grotesques. This type of decoration covers the entire surface of this large trilobate basin, part of the service made for Alfonso II d'Este (1533-97) on his marriage to Margherita de Gonzaga in 1579. Attributed to the Patanazzi workshop, it bears the device, the flaming stone, and also the motto, "Ardet Aeternum", of the dukes of Ferrara.

The table service of Alfonso II d'Este (1533-97)

The Louvre has several pieces from banquet services made by the Urbino potters for the great ruling houses of Renaissance Italy, among them the family of Isabella d'Este. Together with a two-handled vase, this trilobate basin of great plastic complexity was part of a service made for her great-nephew, Alfonso II d'Este, on the occasion of his third marriage, to Margherita de Gonzaga, in 1579. The thirty or so surviving pieces (plates, vases, flasks, salts, etc.) all bear the device and motto - both references to the supposedly inextinguishable flame of burning asbestos - of the last legitimate ducal ruler of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio, whose reign was marked by a great flourishing of art and culture.

Decorative exuberance

Practically the whole surface of this basin ("bacile") is covered in so-called grotesque decoration on a white ground, while in the center is an allegory of the Pietà and, alongside it, personifications of rivers, rendered as antique cameos within cartouches. This purely ornamental grotesque decoration existed in many variations, but here consists of a combination of chimerical figures, fabulous animals, terms, and scrolling foliage, all harmoniously arranged while renouncing neither symmetry nor verticality. In the abundance of motifs and inexhaustible variety of detail, the Mannerist artist displays an evident power of invention. The same wealth of ornament is to be found on the reverse of the basin, where six swans, in high relief, face each other on a wavy ground.

Grotesque decoration: an artistic phenomenon

This type of decoration was used in Raphael's frescoes for the Vatican Loggia, themselves inspired by antique wall-paintings discovered in the fifteenth century at Nero's Golden House in Rome. Coming then into widespread use in the decorative arts more generally, it makes its appearance in the wares of the Urbino potters in the early 1560s, more particularly in the production of the last great workshop in that city, that of the Patanazzi family. It was used, too, in other services they made, for German houses especially. The success of the style was an artistic phenomenon, owing much to the spectacular growth in the publication and distribution of collections of engravings by such as architect and engraver Jacques Androuet du Cerceau the Elder (1510-85).


Giacomotti Jeanne, Catalogue des majoliques des musées nationaux : musées du Louvre et de Cluny, Musée national de céramique à Sèvres, Musée Adrien-Dubouché à Limoges, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1974, p. 358, n 1081, ill. p. 361.

Louvre. Guide du visiteur. Les Objets d'art. Moyen-Age et Renaissance, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1994, p. 111.

Durand Jannic, Le Louvre : les objets d'art, Paris, Éditions Scala, Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1995, p. 61.

Assante di Panzillo Maryline, La Majolique italienne de la Renaissance (II), feuillet de salle n 6/35

Technical description

  • PATANAZZI workshop

    Ewer basin

    C. 1579


  • Faience

    H. 45 cm; W. 47 cm

  • Former Campana collection; acquired in 1863 , 1861

    Part of a dinner service made for Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara

    OA 1467

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Scipio gallery
    Room 516

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