Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Manuscript - Li tre libri dell'arte del vasaio
  • Li tre libri dell'arte del vasaio
    Piccolpasso, Cipriano, born 1523 - died 1579
  • Enlarge image

Li tre libri dell'arte del vasaio

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)
    Umbria (made)
    Castel Durante (Probably made in Castel Durante (now Urbania)., made)

  • Date:

    c.1557 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Piccolpasso, Cipriano, born 1523 - died 1579 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    ink on paper.
    Binding : leather

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    National Art Library

Physical description

Foliation: Paper. i-ii (heavy paper, perhaps 16th/17th-century) + 77 (foliated *1 to *5 and 1-72) ff.
Number of lines: 26-27 lines
Language: Italian
Script: Rough humanistic cursive script


f.*1r: Ornamental half-title
f. *2r: Title-page: LI TRE LIBRI DELL / ARTE DEL VASAIO / Nei quai si tratta non solo la / pratica ma brevente / tutti gli secret di / essa / Cosa, che per sino al di d’oggi è stata sempre tenuta accosta.
ff. *3v-*4r: Prologue
ff. *4r-*5v: Table of contents
ff. 1r-71R: Treatise on the making of pottery. The text ends on f. 65v, after which are ornamental designs for maiolica, with descriptive terms and comments about popularity of designs, and prices.
ff. 71v: Device with a text in praise of Castel Durante as preface to a map on f. 72r
f. 72r: Map of Castel Durante.


Illustrations showing men at work:
Man and donkey gathering clay from pits (f. 2r); Men gathering clay from a river (f. 3r); Potter assembling a wheel under directions from a Master (f. 7v); Two potters throwing a dish and a pot (f. 16r); Two potters turning pots on wheels (f. 19v); Two potters straining wine lees, making balls and burning them for potash (f. 22v); Two nude men on a balcony overlooking a city, carrying wood and stoking a furnace, one with a hourglass (f. 29r); Four people stoking a furnace, sited beneath a roof (f. 35r); Man operating a “Venetian mill” as a gondola arrives at the jetty (f. 38r); three men crushing frits (marzacotto; f. 38v); Firing a furnace for lustre ware, with broom rather than willow (f. 49v); A man preparing colours (f. 53r), Four men painting small jars seated around a suspended tray. On the walls are a series of drawings or prints (f. 57v).

Illustrations showing tools, processes, kilns… integrated in the text:
ff. 3v, 4r, 4v, 5r, 5v, 6r, 6v, 7r, 8r, 8v, 9r, 9v, 10r, 10v, 11r, 13r, 13v, 14r, 14v, 15r, 15v, 17r, 17v, 18r, 18v, 19r, 20r, 26v, 27r, 27v, 31v, 32r, 32v, 34v, 35v, 36r, 36v, 37r, 37v, 45v, 47r, 47v, 48r, 48v, 49r, 52v, 53r, 53v, 55r, 55v, 57r, 62v, 63r, 63v, 64r.

Map of Urbino, with a shield of the arms of Guidobaldo della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, impaling those of Vittoria Farnese, whom he married as his second wife in 1548, and the legend CIVITAS URBINI (f. *3v); Map of Castel Durante, with the arms as in f.*3v, and the legend TERRA DURANTE (f. 72r).
Frames and cartouches:
Strapwork cartouche (empty) with frolicking putti within a rectangle, itself set in a strapwork frame with putti (f. *1r), frame with masks, putti and fruit, around a rectangle with the title IL SECONDO LI/ BRO DELL ARTE / DEL VASAIO; beneath the title is a jewelled ring in flames (f. 21v); Strapwork frame with putti and fruit, within the rectangle the title IL TERZO LI/BRO DELL AR/TE DEL VASA/ IO, and the device of a jewelled ring in flames; the frame is upside down (f. 51v).

Decorative initials (all measure 35x53 mm):
“V” with Vulcan at his anvil, with Cupid (f. 1r); “S” with Samson breaking the columns of the Temple at Dagon (f. 2r), “F” with Fortune on a wheel, holding a sail and being driven by two contrary winds, (f. 3r); “T” with Greeks emerging from the Trojan horse, Troy in flames ( f. 7v); “A” with Venus lamenting over the body of Adonis, (f. 19v); “E” with Hercules and the Hydra (f.22r); P with Pluto carrying off Proserpine (f. 29r); “ P” with Judgement of Paris (f. 33r); “F” with Two river gods (f. 52r).

Ornamental designs:
Foliate figure (f. 47r); Maiolica design (military regalia and arabesques, headed “TROFEI” and “RABESCHE”, f. 66r), Maiolica design (military regalia, headed “TROFEI”, f. 66v); Maiolica design (oak leaves and grotesques, headed “CERQUATE” and “GROTESCHE”, f. 67r); Maiolica design (foliage, headed “FOGLIE”, f. 67v); Maiolica design (flowers and fruit, headed “FIORI” and “FRUTTI”, f. 68r); Maiolica design (foliage, headed “FOGLIE DA DUZENA”, f. 68v); Maiolica design (view of a river running through a town, headed “PAESI”, f. 69r); Maiolica design (leaves on scrolling stems, with knotwork, headed “PORCELLA” and “TIRATA”, f. 69v); Maiolica design (palmette design within a circle of scrolling stems and leaves, and foliage compartments, headed “SOPRA BIANCHI” and “QUARTIERE”, f. 70r); Maiolica design (scroll making up vignettes, and knotwork, headed “GROPPI CON FONDI E SENZA”, f. 70v); Maiolica design (grotesques with strapwork and foliage, headed “Candelleri”, f. 71r).

Devices: On title-page, a bird, possibly a dove, trying to fly with its feet tied to a stone (a millstone?), and the legend “IMPORTUNUM” (f. *2); A tree bearing fruit (pomegranates) growing from a rock; above, a legend SIC IN STERILI (f. 71v).

16th-17th century, Italy (?): limp vellum binding; resewn on five sawn-in cords.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)
Umbria (made)
Castel Durante (Probably made in Castel Durante (now Urbania)., made)


c.1557 (made)


Piccolpasso, Cipriano, born 1523 - died 1579 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

ink on paper.
Binding : leather


Height: 28 cm, Width: 23 cm, Height: 185 mm written area, Width: 140 mm written area

Object history note

1) Written by Piccolpasso in ca. 1557, probably at Castel Durante. Piccolpasso states that the manuscript was made at the request of Cardinal François de Tournon (1489-1562), when he was in Italy on a mission for Henri II, king of France.
2) Cited by Giambattista Passeri (1694-1780) in Istoria delle pitture in majolica fatte in Pesaro e ne’luoghi circonvicini, Venice, 1758, as being in the collection of Cardinal Giovanni Stoppani, Legate of Urbino in 1754-1756.
3) Described by Filippo Timoteo de’ Salvetti, a late 18th-century chronicler of Castel Durante, as in the collection of G.B. Papi, of Castel Durante.
4) Owned by Giuseppe Raffaelli (1785-1878) by 1846, and mentioned in his Memorie istoriche delle maioliche lavorate in Castel Durante o sia Urbania, Fermo, 1846
5) Bought by J. C. Robinson in the winter of 1860 from Filippo Ugolini as agent for Raffaelli, for the South Kensington Museum, for £45.10s.8d.; passed from the Art Museum to the Library in 1863.

Descriptive line

Manuscript, 'Li tre libri dell'arte del vasaio', by Cipriano Piccolpasso, Italy (Umbria), c.1557.


Pen; Ink

Subjects depicted

Potteries; Majolica; Pottery


Books; Manuscripts; Ceramics; National Art Library; Medieval and renaissance

Production Type



National Art Library

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.