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Work Bowl bearing the coat of arms of Florence

Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance

Decorative Arts

Ducrot Brigitte

This bowl, with its powerful lines, is one of the most impressive relics of the earthenware trade in early 15th-century Florence. The iconography depicts a lion in a field of lily stems, bearing a banner decorated with the Florentine lily, symbol of the city. The bowl is obviously influenced by Spanish and Oriental earthenware, but it also heralds the new Italian majolica ware. This bowl should thus be seen in the context of the development of a new, original style.

The iconography of power

The majestic heraldic lion, or marzocco, dominates the inner surface of the bowl, facing left and holding in his front paw the banner of Florence with the city's lily emblem. The lion's head is skillfully highlighted against the background by the use of a patch of undecorated white glaze; the rest of the surface is covered with flowering lily stems and small patches of hachure and volutes. Around the flat edge of the bowl, a row of fleurons, every second one inverted, forms a saw tooth frieze. The rim is pierced by two holes, indicating that the bowl was meant to be hung on a wall and thus was purely decorative. At that time, Florence's republican institutions were in the hands of the Medici family (until 1494); the city was rising above its recent difficulties, and the bowl can be seen as a display of Florence's supremacy over other cities in the early days of the Renaissance, when new artistic avenues were being explored.

The origins of majolica ware

This bowl is one of the most interesting early pieces of majolica ware. The term majolica is generally used to describe Italian earthenware. It is thought to be a corruption of Majorca, as the ships carrying to Italy the sumptuously glazed earthenware produced in the workshops of Valencia stopped off in Majorca throughout the Middle Ages. From the 13th century, this new technique came into use in several parts of Italy, including Tuscany. In the 15th century, Tuscany became one of the leading centers of majolica production, first developing a style of ceramics with stanniferous enamel, and later a more individual local style. Nevertheless, the influence of Spain - where most earthenware was produced - is evident in the shape of this bowl, which is similar to that of the great flat-bottomed dishes, with an almost vertical inner border and a flat rim typical of Manises, in Valencia. This Spanish style was itself influenced by copper bowls made in Damascus.

Developing the use of color

This bowl, along with the jug on display beside it, is remarkable for its narrow palette of colors, dominated by verdigris. A large dish decorated with a man on horseback, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, belongs to the same "famille verte" style. This style is less well known than the typical Tuscan apothecary jars with two flat handles, decorated with oak leaves, animals, and human figures in thick cobalt blue glaze. The Louvre also has several examples of this style in Room 4. It was not until the second half of the 15th century that earthenware potters were able to control the firing process to the point where they could call on a wider palette of colors in their high-fired glazes.


Cora G., Storia della maiolica di Firenze e del contado. Secoli XIV e XV, Sandoni, 1973, p.72, fig.49.
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.10.
Louvre. Guide du visiteur. Les Objets d'art. Moyen Age et Renaissance, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1994, p.69.
Taburet-Delahaye E., L'art vers 1400 (II). Les cours européennes au début du XVe siècle, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1994 (Feuillets 6/29), ill.6.
Durand J., Le Louvre. Les Objets d'art, Paris, Editions Scala, 1995, p.46.
Les collections du Louvre, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1999 (Anthologie des collections), p.229, ill. p.228.

Technical description

  • Bowl

  • Faience

    H. 8 cm; Diam. 64 cm

  • Acquired in 1897 , 1897

    OA 3946

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Scepter of Charles V
    Room 504
    Display case 7

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