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Basin

  • Place of origin:

    Pesaro (made)

  • Date:

    1485-1490 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tin-glazed earthenware

  • Museum number:

    7410-1860

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case 2

Within Renaissance society, great emphasis was placed on the continuation of the lineage. Politically and economically advantageous alliances were meticulously negotiated and lavishly celebrated. This was only possible with extravagant spending and those who could afford it paid vast sums of money to fete the occasion. An elaborate courtship involved the exchange of many gifts particularly associated with, and often made especially for, the ritual. Therefore, art objects had a specific role in the practical business of arranging a marriage, translating tangible wealth in to signifiers of abstract virtue.

In 1528 Baldassare Castiglione wrote in the third book of the Courtier that 'women are allowed to fail in all other things without blame, to the end that they might be able to devote all their strength to keeping themselves in the virtue of chastity'. The visual emphasis on chastity in marriage was closely linked with the promotion of childbearing and the celebration of fertility; female chastity was valued so highly chiefly because it ensured the legitimacy of any offspring, of sons in particular. Accordingly, this basin juxtaposes the image of a castellated tower, symbolic of chastity, with a scene of fecundity and fruitfulness.

The incorporation of the arms of Matthias Corvinus (left) and his second wife Beatrix (m.1476, daughter of Ferdinand I of Aragon, King of Naples) demonstrates that objects such as this were intended to commemorate the importance of an alliance and its hopes of progeny, whilst strengthening the family's sense of honour and collective virtues.

Physical description

Shallow basin with wide rim. In the centre, in a medallion, seven naked boys gathering fruit from a tree in a landscape with a castellated tower on a distant hill. On the rim, the arms of Matthias Corvinus (left) and his second wife Beatrix (m.1476, daughter of Ferdinand I of Aragon, King of Aragon). Two original pierced suspention holes through the footrim, corresponding with the top of the dish when viewing the decoration. In addition there are two drilled suspention holes at the opposite side of the footrim.

Place of Origin

Pesaro (made)

Date

1485-1490 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Tin-glazed earthenware

Dimensions

Height: 9.7 cm, Diameter: 46.8 cm, Weight: 3.06 kg

Object history note

Three other pieces from this service survive. One of these is also at the V&A (Museum no. 1738-1855); the other two are in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley (California).

Note that Tim Wilson (Ashmolean Museum) in an e-mail to Kirstin Kennedy (V&A Medieval and Renaissance Galleries Project) of 08.12.07 observes that he thinks the dish is later than 1476 on stylistic grounds, 'so the idea that it commemorates [Matthias and Beatrice's] marriage (or indeed any specific occasion) is I think optimistic.' He does add, however, that 'In 1488 a Pesaro potter called Francesco di Angelo was away "in longinquis partibus Ungariae" - tempting to make a connection, don't you think?'

Historical significance: In 1528 Baldassare Castiglione wrote in the third book of the Courtier that 'women are allowed to fail in all other things without blame, to the end that they might be able to devote all their strength to keeping themselves in the virtue of chastity'. The visual emphasis on chastity in marriage was closely linked with the promotion of childbearing and the celebration of fertility; female chastity was valued so highly chiefly because it ensured the legitimacy of any offspring, of sons in particular. Accordingly, this basin juxtaposes the image of a castellated tower, symbolic of chastity, with a scene of fecundity and fruitfulness.
The incorporation of the arms of Matthias Corvinus (left) and his second wife Beatrix (m.1476, daughter of Ferdinand I of Aragon, King of Naples) demonstrates that objects such as this were intended to commemorate the importance of the alliance and its hopes of progeny, whilst strengthening the family's sense of honour and collective virtues. Matthias Corvinus (1443-90) married his second wife Beatrix in 1476 and she re-married in 1502.

Historical context note

Within Renaissance society, great emphasis was placed on the continuation of the lineage. Politically and economically advantageous alliances were meticulously negotiated and lavishly celebrated. This was only possible with extravagant spending and those who could afford it paid vast sums of money to fete the occasion. An elaborate courtship involved the exchange of many gifts particularly associated with, and often made especially for, the ritual. Therefore, art objects had a specific role in the practical business of arranging a marriage.

However, if a later date on stylistic grounds accepted, then the significance of the dish as a wedding gift is reduced. Indeed, the image of children gathering and sorting fruit appears on other dishes of the period and is entirely suitable for a dining context. The climbing children may be less a symbol of fertility than an illustration of St Paul's stern observation, delivered in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, that 'if any would not work, neither should he eat'. A Florentine dish from around 1480, now in the V&A [Museum no. 2559-1856], provides a comparison. It shows two children clambering up a tree, and the legend 'E no se po mangiare senza fatiga' ('one cannot eat without toil').

Descriptive line

Basin, tin-glazed earthenware, commemorating the union of Matthias Corvinus and Beatrix, daughter of Ferdinand I, King of Naples

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Rackham B., Italian Maiolica, London, Faber & Faber, 1952
Syson, Luke & Dora Thornton, Objects of Virtue: Art in Renaissance Italy, London: The British Museum Press, 2001
Musacchio, J., The Art and Ritual of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy, Yale, 1999
See the catalogue to the exhibition 'The Dowry of Beatrice: The Art of Italian Majolica and the Court of King Matthias Corvinus', March 26 - June 30 2008 at the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest.
p.178
Farbaky, P., Pocs, D., Scudieri, M., Brunori, L., Spekner, E. and Vegh, A. (eds.) Mattia Corvino e Firenze: Arte e Umanesimo alla Corte del Re di Ungheria. Florence: Giunti, 2013.
A. Bettini, Sul Servizio di Mattia Corvino e sulla maiolica pesarese della seconda meta del XV secolo, in Faenza, LXXXIII (1997), pp. 169-204, pl. XXV a.
Corvinus Exhibition catalogue 1982, fig. 82, cat. 210, p. 297 with more lit refs.

Materials

Earthenware; Tin glaze

Techniques

Painted

Categories

Ceramics

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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