C. Drury E. (Charles Drury Edward) Fortnum.

Maiolica online

. (page 9 of 12)
Online LibraryC. Drury E. (Charles Drury Edward) FortnumMaiolica → online text (page 9 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

1730, and a washy green was also used; the drawing was good

and some of the landscape pieces excellent, ot careful finish, soft
colouring and good aerial perspective. It is veiy probable,
however, that many pieces of this period were really the produce
of Castelli or Naples.



Although not to be ranked with the earliest seats of the
manufacture of artistic pottery in Italy, there is no place so much
associated with these beautiful productions of the potters art as
the small city of Urbino, whence, indeed, was derived one of the
names by which it is distinguished. Crowning a steep among the
many hills of Umbria, remarkable in the landscape from her
picturesque position and the towering palace of her dukes, Urbino
is one of those very curious cities with which Italy abounds, and
which centre round themselves an individual history of the
greatest interest. What giants of art and of literature were born
or nurtured in that little town ! now so neglected and unknown.
He who, climbing the steep ascent and tortuous narrow streets,
has visited the deserted halls and richly decorated cabinets of her
palace, and has travelled through the beauteous scenery of her
neighbourhood, to where the delicious valley of the Tiber bursts
upon the sight, will never forget the impressions that they leave.

In proof of the antiquity of ceramic industry of a more ordinary
kind in the vicinity of this city, Pungileoni tells us that an
antique amphora was not long since discovered in the grounds of
the Villa Gaisa, hard by the river Isauro, and that near to it were
also found remains of a potter's furnace. This, however, does
not prove the early establishment of a fabrique of glazed or
enamelled decorative wares. Marryat states that in a register of
Urbino dated 1477 one Giovanni di Donino Garducci is men-

MAI LIC A. 137

tioned as a potter of that place, but it is not till 1501 that any
further record occurs. In that year an assortment of vases,
dishes, &c. were ordered to be made for the use of the cardinal
di Carpaccio, and among them are mentioned " bacili " having
the arms of the cardinal in the centre, and water " boccali " or
jugs with little lions on the covers. The earliest pieces now
known to us, which can with any certainty be ascribed to the
potteries of Urbino, are probably those of the Gonzaga-Este
service, which are undoubtedly the work of Nicola da Urbino ;
these must have been painted between the period of the marriage
of the marquis with Isabella d' Este, in 1490, and before her
death in 1539.

We have no account of the precise date at which the Pellipario,
afterwards Fontana, family came from Castel Durante and settled
at Urbino, but we have documentary proof that " Guido Niccolai
Pellipario figulo da Durante," or "Guido, son of Nicola Pellipario,
potter of Durante," was established at Urbino in 1520. From
this period through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a
number of pieces are dated and signed by various artists, or as
having been made in the boteghe of various maestri of Urbino.

We are obliged to refer the reader to the large catalogue, in
detail, of the South Kensington collection of maiolica, for an
account of the works of the more important of these artists under
their respective names, beginning with Nicola as the earliest of
whom we have known examples ; the Fontana family, and of
Guido Durantino ; the works of Fra Xanto ; of Francesco Duran-
tino ; of the Patanazzi ; not omitting those of other artists of the
fabrique, of whom we have smaller record in remaining examples or
documentary history. There seems little doubt that the revival
or perhaps the first introduction of artistic ceramic manufacture
to Urbino was under the influence of Guidobaldo I., and that
many of the potters and nearly all the more important artists
immigrated from Castel Durante. Long lists of names have been
published by Raffaelli, but it is difficult to distinguish between


the more ordinary potters and the artists, whose works we are
unable to recognise from the absence of signed specimens. Our
space here will allow us to do little more than mention their

Considerable uncertainty exists and some confusion has arisen
among connoisseurs in respect to the works of the very able
artist Nicola da Urbino, and as to his connection with the
Fontana family and fabrique at Urbino, the latter still a disputed
and undecided question • as also to the marks on various pieces
attributable to his hand only, but which have been assigned by
M. Jacquemart to the fabrique of Ferrara, and by other writers to
various painters and localities. There are no pieces marked or
signed by this artist in the South Kensington museum, but it
possesses some examples of his work. A certain similarity in
some of his less careful pieces has caused them, not unfrequently,
to be attributed to Xanto, but a closer study of his manner will
show it to be really very distinct.

The first signed piece is in the British museum, a plate, repre-
senting a sacrifice to Diana, and inscribed on the reverse as in
the opposite woodcut. Comparing this mark with those of the
Gonzaga-Este service, Mr. Franks arrived at the conclusion that
they also were painted by Nicola in his most careful manner; the
clue thus found, he ingeniously deciphered the monogram on the
beautiful fragment in the Sauvageot collection painted with a group
from the Parnassus of Raffaelle, as clearly and unmistakably by
the same hand.

The manner of Nicola is remarkable for a sharp and careful
outline of the figures, the features clearly defined but with much
delicacy of touch, the eyes, mouth, and nostrils denoted by a
clear black spot, the faces oval, derived from the Greek model, a
free use of yellow and a pale yellow green, a tightening of the
ankle and a peculiar rounding of the knee, the hair and beard of
the older heads heightened with white ; the architecture bright
and distinct ; the landscape background somewhat carefully

MA 10 LIC A. 139

rendered in dark blue against a golden sky ; and lastly, the stems
of the trees, strangely tortuous, are coloured brown, strongly
marked with black lines, as also are the rolled up clouds ; these
are treated in a manner not very true to nature.



\ \u§n% j » &% #< ff (if/ If

^ ^ 1 ¥ S

tL I a dtfL cft/iiiA

t 3 ■&.

K 1 % i


l\l % rk I ft

i •

Few Maiolica painters have produced works of greater beauty
than the plates of the Gonzaga-Este service, which are equally
excellent in the quality of glaze and the brilliancy of colour.

With regard to the Fontana family, chiefs among Italian
ceramic artists, we quote from the notice by Mr. Robinson
appended to the Soulages catalogue. He tells us that " The
celebrity of one member of this family has been long established
by common consent. Orazio Fontana has always occupied the
highest place in the scanty list of Maiolica artists, although at the
same time nothing was definitely known of his works. Unlike
their contemporary, Xanto, the Fontana seem but rarely to have
signed their productions, and consequently their reputation as yet
rests almost entirely on tradition, on incidental notices in writings
which date back to the age in which they flourished, and on facts

140 MAI0L1CA.

•extracted at a recent period from local records. No connected
account of this family has as yet been attempted, although the
materials are somewhat less scanty than usual. There can be no
doubt that a considerable proportion of the products of the
Fontana ' boteghe 5 is still extant, and that future observations
will throw light on much that is now obscure in the history of this
notable race of industrial artists. Orazio Fontana, whose renown
seems to have completely eclipsed that of the other members ot
his family and in fact of all the other Urbinese artists, is first
mentioned by Baldi, at the beginning of the seventeenth century,
in his eulogy of the state of Urbino pronounced before duke
Francesco Maria II." " From documents cited by Raffaelli, it is
•established beyond doubt that the original family name was
Pellipario, of Castel Durante, Fontana being an adopted surname ;
and it is not immaterial to observe that down to the latest
mention of any one of the family (in 1605) they are invariably
described as of Castel Durante." " The Fontana were un-
doubtedly manufacturers as well as artists, i.e., they were the
proprietors of * vaserie.' Of the first Nicola, as we have only a
brief incidental notice, nothing positive can be affirmed : but with
respect to his son Guido, we have the testimony both of works
still extant, and of contemporary documents. We know also that
Guido's son Orazio also had a manufactory of his own, and the
fact is established, that between 1565 and 1571 there were two
•distinct Fontana manufactories, — those of father and son. What
became of Orazio's establishment after his death, whether con-
tinued by his brother Camillo, or reunited to that of the father,
there is no evidence to show. With respect to the remaining
members of the family, our information is of the scantiest kind.
Camillo, who was inferior in reputation as a painter only to his
elder brother, appears to have been invited to Ferrara by duke
Alfonso II., and to have introduced the Maiolica manufacture
into that city. Of Nicola, the third (?) son, we have only
incidental mention in a legal document, showing that he was alive


in the year 1570. Guido, son of Camillo, lived till 1605 ; and of
Flaminio, who may either have 'been son of Camillo or of Nicola,
Dennistoun's vague notice asserting his settlement in Florence is
all I have been able to collect. No signed pieces of Camillo,
Flaminio, Nicola the second, or Guido the second, have as yet
been observed.

"A considerable proportion of the Fontana maiolica is doubtless
still extant ; and it is desirable to endeavour to identify the works
of the individual members of the family, without which the mere
knowledge of their existence is of very little moment ; but this is
no easy task ; although specimens from the hands of one or other
of them are to be undoubtedly found in almost every collection,
the work of comparison and collation has as yet been scarcely
attempted. The similarity of style and technical characteristics
of the several artists moreover, working as they did with the same
colours on the same quality of enamel ground, and doubtless in
intimate communication with each other, resolves itself into such
a strong family resemblance, that it will require the most minute-
and careful observation, unremittingly continued, ere the author-
ship of the several specimens can be determined with anything
like certainty. The evidence of signed specimens is of course
the most to be relied on, and is indeed indispensable in giving
the clue to complete identification in the first instance ; but in
the case of the Fontana family a difficulty presents itself which
should be noticed in the outset. This difficulty arises in deter-
mining the authorship of the pieces signed ' Fatto in botcga] &c.
&c. ; a mode of signature, in fact, which proves very little in
determining individual characteristics, inasmuch as apparently
nearly all the works so inscribed are painted by other hands than
that of the proprietor of the Vaseria. In cases, however, in
which the artist has actually signed or initialed pieces with his
own name, of course no such difficulty exists, but the certainty
acquired by this positive evidence is as yet confined in the case of
the Fontana family to their greatest name, Orazio." We regret



that our limits prevent further quotation from Mr. Robinson's
valuable remarks.

It is a matter of uncertainty whether Guido Fontana and Guido
Durantino were the same person or rival maestri ; and we are
disposed to the former opinion, from the fact that in the docu-
ments quoted by Pungileoni no other "Vasaio" named Guido,
and of Castel Durante, is named. The pieces inscribed as
having been made in their boteghe although painted by different
hands may, by the wording of their inscriptions afford some
explanation ; thus, on the Sta. Cecilia plate painted by Nicola, he

La qvial vC


writes in 1528, "fata in botcga di Guido da Castello d' Uraiite in
Urbuio" from which we argue a connexion with the Fontana.

Unfortunately, we know no piece signed as actually painted by
the hand of Guido Fontana, but as he took that cognomen after
settling in Urbino it would be more probable that he would
himself apply it on his own work ; whereas Nicola (presumably
his father), on a piece of earlier date, retained the name of their



native castcllo. By others the botega would long be known as
that of the " durantini." and that it retained that appellation

even in the following generation is proved by the occasional
reference to Orazio Fontana as of Castel Durante. We give a
woodcut of an example of the highest quality ; a pilgrim's bottle,
at South Kensington, no. 8408.

The manner of the painter of these pieces approaches very


much to that of Orazio but is less refined and rich in colouring,
wanting that harmony and power of expression for which he was
remarkable ; the drawing is more correct and careful than on some
of Orazio's work, but is more dry and on the surface ; there is
great force and movement in the figures and the landscape
backgrounds are finished with much care and effect, sometimes
covering the whole piece ; the foliage of the trees is also well

The celebrated vases made for the spezieria of the duke were
produced at the Fontana fabrique, and subsequently presented to
the Santa Casa at Loreto where many of them are still preserved.
Those shown to the writer on his visit to that celebrated shrine
some few years since did not strike him as being of such extra-
ordinary beauty and great artistic excellence, as the high-flown
eulogy bestowed upon them by some writers would have led him
to expect. The majority of the pieces are drug pots of a not
unusual form, but all or nearly all of them are " istoriati," instead
of being, as is generally the case, simply decorated with " trofei,"
" foglie," " grotesche," the more usual and less costly ornamenta-
tion. Some of the pieces have serpent handles, mask spouts, &c.
but he vainly looked for the magnificent vases of unsurpassed
beauty, nor indeed did he see anything equal to the shaped
pieces preserved in the Bargello at Florence. The work of the
well-known hands of the Fontana fabrique is clearly recognisable,
and several pieces are probably by Orazio. Some, more im-
portant, preserved in a low press were finer examples. We have
said that the pieces individually are not so striking but taken as
a whole it is a very remarkable service, said to have originally
numbered 380 vases, all painted with subjects after the designs ot
Battista Franco, Giulio Romano, Angelo, and Raffaelle • and as
the work of one private artistic pottery in the comparatively
remote capital of a small duchy, it bears no slight testimony to
the extraordinary development of every branch of art-industry in
the various districts of Italy during the sixteenth century. They

MAI O LIC A. 145

were made by order of Guidobaldo II., but on the accession o f
Francesco Maria II. in 1574 he found the financial condition of
the duchy in a state so embarrassed that he was obliged to devote
less attention to the encouragement of art. He abdicated in
favour of the Holy See and died in 1631. The vases of the
Spezieria were presented to our Lady of Loreto, while his valuable
art collections were removed to Florence.

On the vases of Loreto, says Mr. Marryat, " the subjects are
the four evangelists, the twelve apostles, St. John, St. Paul,
Susannah and Job. The others represent incidents in the Old
Testament, actions of the Romans, their naval battles and the
metamorphoses of Ovid. On eighty-five of the vases are pour-
trayed the games of children, each differing from the other.
These vases are highly prized for their beauty as well as for their
variety. They have been engraved by Bartoli. A Grand Duke
of Florence was so desirous of purchasing them, that he proposed
giving in exchange a like number of silver vessels of equal weight ;
while Christina of Sweden was known to say, that of all the
treasures of the Santa Casa she esteemed these the most. Louis
XIV. is reported to have offered for the four evangelists and St.
Paul an equal number of gold statues."

With his other art treasures the ornamental vases and vessels
of the credenza, among which were doubtless some of the choicest
productions of the Urbino furnaces made for Guidobaldo, must
have been in great part removed to Florence ; and there accord-
ingly we find some remarkable specimens. For many years
neglected, these noble pieces were placed almost out of observa-
tion on the top of cases which contained the Etruscan and other
antique vases in the gallery of the Ufiizi. When more general
interest was excited on the subject of the renaissance pottery
these examples were removed to another room. They now
occupy central cases in one of the rooms of the Bargello, used as
a museum of art objects, and form a magnificent assemblage of
vases, ewers, vasques, pilgrim's bottles, and other shaped pieces ,

146 MA 10 LIC A.

dishes, and salvers, perhaps the richest that has descended
collectively to our days, and among which may be recognised the
works of all the more important ceramic artists of Urbino.

Portions of a magnificent service of the best period of Orazio
Fontana's botega are dispersed in various collections, as also
some pieces of equally rich quality made after the same models,
but which were probably of another "credenza." Two of the
former were exhibited at the loan exhibition in 1862, by baron
Anthony de Rothschild. They are large oval dishes with raised
medallion centres, and having the surface, both internally and
outside, divided into panels by raised strapwork springing from
masks, with ornamental moulded borders, &c. These panels,
edged with cartouche ornament, are painted with subjects from
the Spanish romance of Amadis de Gaul, and on the reverse are
inscriptions in that language corresponding with the panel illustra-
tions. The central subject is not of the same series, but repre-
sents boys shooting at a target, on one dish, and warriors fighting,
upon the other. The border is painted with admirable Urbino
grotesques on a brilliant white ground. The size of these pieces
is 2ft. 2 in. by i.8| in.

It appears that the Fontana botega was neither founded nor
maintained although greatly encouraged and patronised by the
duke Guidobaldo, but was solely created by the enterprise and
sustained by the united industry of the family. Orazio died on
the 3rd August 1 57 1. By his will he left his wife 400 scudi, &c.
and power to remain in partnership with his nephew Flaminio,
with a view to the benefit of his only daughter, Virginia, who had
married into the Giunta family when young. We think there is
every probability that the fabrique was so continued, and that a
numerous class, having the character of the wares of the botega
but of inferior artistic merit and showing the general decadence of
the period, may with probability be attributed to it.

On many of the grand pieces of the Fontana fabrique the work
of another hand is seen, which differs from the acknowledged

MA 10 LIC A. I47

manner of Orazio. They are among the most decorative pro-
ductions of the factory, large round dishes with grotesque borders
on a white ground, shaped pieces similarly decorated, and having
panels of subject executed by the artist in question ; others also
where the subject covers the whole surface of the dish. We have
no clue to the name of this able painter, but we would venture to
suggest the great probability that these were the work of Camillo,
who is said to have been an artist only inferior in merit to Orazio
himself. In manner they approach nearly to, and are difficult to
distinguish from, the finer examples of the Lanfranchi fabrique at
Pesaro ; less powerful and broad than the work of Orazio, and
less careful in drawing than those ascribed to Guido, they
approach the former in the blending of the colours and rich soft
effect of surface, while a similar mode of rendering various
objects, as stones, water, trees, &c. pervades all three, with slight
individual variations. A peculiar elongation of the figures, and
narrowing of the knee and ankle joints are characteristics of this
hand, as also a transparent golden hue to the flesh.

We are almost wholly in the dark as to the clever painters of
the grotesques on a pure white ground which so charmingly
decorate many of the noblest productions of Orazio's furnace.
The work of two or more hands is manifest on various pieces of
the best period ; one, perhaps the most able, is constantly seen on
pieces, the istoriati panels or interiors of which are painted by
Orazio himself or by the artist whose works we have just
considered, and may, perhaps, also have been by the hand 'of the
latter, a similar method of heightening with small strokes of red
colour being observable on both. Gironimo, by whom we have
a signed piece in the South Kensington museum, no. 4354, may
have been another, but his manner is of a somewhat later

Of Nicola, jun., we know nothing; he is mentioned in his
father's wills made in 1570 and 1576; and that he was unfor-
tunate or improvident would seem probable from the fact that in

l 2

148 MAI O LIC A.

the deed of contract between Orazio and his father on the
occasion of his setting up for himself in 1565 he agrees to keep
and provide for Domitilla and Flaminio, children of his brother
Nicola, for the space of three years.

Flaminio the nephew, son of Nicola, continued the works and
was a favourite of the dukes Guidobaldo and Francesco Maria ; it
is said that the latter took him to Florence to teach and aid
pupils studying under Bartolomeo degli Ammanati, where he re-
mained for some years. Under the fabrique of Caffaggiolo we find
pieces which may perhaps have been produced under the influence
of this member of the family. In form and decoration with gro-
tesques they are a poor reminiscence of the superior works of an
earlier period.

The w r ork of another, a later and inferior hand, probably of the
Fontana fabrique, is abundant in collections ; his manner is
between that of the Fontana and of the Patanazzi; free and
effective, but loose and careless ; the Fontana pigments are
used, and occasionally pieces occur painted with greater pains.
Many vases with serpent handles and other shaped pieces
were painted by this hand, of whose name we have no record,
and it would be only guessing to suggest that Guido Fontana,
junior, the son of Camillo, who died in 1605, may have been
their author.

Another important artist of the Urbino fabrique was Francesco
Xanto, who, like Giorgio, adopted the unusual habit of signing in
various forms the greater number of the pieces which he painted.
Although we cannot but appreciate the modesty, the " Lamp of
Sacrifice," which induced so many of the earlier and con-
temporary artists of the highest excellence to refrain from
attaching their names to the works of their hands, or at the most
to sign a few of their admirable productions in monogram, we
must regret their having used so much reserve, and that in conse-
quence conjecture must take so large a place in the history of this
branch of artistic handicraft.

MA 10 LIC A. i 49

We have little other information of this painter beyond what is
conveyed by the inscriptions on pieces by his hand.

His name is mentioned by Rog. Vincenzo Vanni, on the 29th
March 1539, as "Franciscus Xatis fictilinus vasorum pictor
^egregius." A native of Rovigo, he seems to have settled at
Urbino and there produced all his works. His true name,
gathered from his varied signatures, would appear to be Francesco
Xanto Avelli da Rovigo, and the dates of his signed works extend
from 1530 to 1542, although it is highly probable that many
existing undated pieces were executed before, and perhaps after
those dates. His earlier works are generally more fully signed,
while many of the latter have only one or two initial letters.
Works by Xanto are to be found in almost every collection of any
note, and among them are examples of high artistic excellence,
although very many betray want of care and hasty execution. It

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12

Online LibraryC. Drury E. (Charles Drury Edward) FortnumMaiolica → online text (page 9 of 12)