In the last issue of this magazine our article end by recalling how the fortune of majolica was made by the masterpieces created by the various Italian manufacturers of the sixteenth century, and “spread out all around Europe and admired in the private room as marvels of art.” From that moment we can say collecting and taste for majolica began, and developed, then continuously over time, among the furnishings of the workrooms of the courts and of the humanists: first kept in private places, in galleries and in the repositories, then the majolica appeared in private museums, including naturalia, artificialia and mirabilia, and finally they became protagonists of the concatenated movement of European collectors, from which originated also the great public collections.
Since the seventeenth century, majolica has been appreciated especially if historiated, particularly in the subject of Raphael, and appears in almost all the curiosity cabinets of European monarchs. There were some in the 1653 inventory of art assets belonging to Christina of Sweden, patroness of Arcadia Romana, cultured and refined collector, and also in the one of Cardinal Mazarin, whose art treasures were enriched in 1648 by the sale of the collections of Charles I of England. In Italy, among the first documented cases it is worth mentioning the seventeenth-century “Museum of Wonders” by Ferdinando Cospi, from Bologna, which along with the collections Aldrovandi and Marsili, will enrich the University’s collections and then the nineteenth century Medieval Museum.
A rare antique collectibles sample could be a valuable albarello from the sixteenth century (Fig. 1a), which has a paper label under the foot on which the name of Paulus Aemilius Rondaninus Romanus / Camerae Apostolicae Clericus, combined with the coat of arms of the prelate (1617-1668) is handed down, decorated with the cardinal ribbons (fig. 1b).
The work was intended for an apothecary kit, as highlighted by the inscription, drawn in Gothic character and clearly in the middle area, “farina de lupins” , around which features the most famous exotic decorative robe of the sixteenth century, the one called “the porcelain.” The fact that in the collection of Cardinal Paolo Emilio Rondinini, there were works by Faenza must not be surprising when you consider that he came from a noble Lombard family divided into two branches: one had settled in Faenza and the other in Rome. Besides the relations between the Roman with that Faenza part of the family, whose heraldry is present in the local armorial (Fig. 1c), are documented over time precisely through Faenza ceramics celebrating Rondanini on works with their coat of arms dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.
At the end of the eighteenth century travellers from across the Alps during the “Grand Tour” of Italy discovered the art of majolica no longer on the tables, but stored in the anthologies of wonders of the aristocracy of the time. From those collections soon many objects passed into European collections; striking case is that of the potteries “for cupboard” that belonged to the Dukes of Urbino. Past ceramics literature recalls that, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, “Cosimo III de Medici gave Sir Andrew Fountaine, a British Resident at the Grand Ducal Court of Tuscany, half of the exquisite ceramic furnishings received from Urbino as his mother’s Vittoria della Rovere legacy, niece of the last Duke Francesco Maria II. That is how the famous collection of Fountaine began, which was dispersed hundred and fifty years later”.
In England the phenomenon of collecting the Italian majolica is witnessed through numerous catalogues of sales, which follow one another from the third decade of the eighteenth century onwards, as, for example, the collection of the noble Italian art gallery of “Mr. Sterbini” and that of the painter Charles Jarvis: a period that saw especially the increase of interest for the historiated works from Urbino, the so-called “Raphael ware”. In Paris in 1750 took place the historical dispersion of the important collection of Pierre Crozat, while in the German world, which had already shown early interest towards the Italian majolica since the sixteenth century, with the Imhof and the Wittelsbach, important collections of Italian majolica formed. For example, more than a thousand majolicas, mostly historiated, were included in the collection of the Duke Anton Ulrich of Braunschweig, between French enamels, oriental porcelain, etc., as reported by a guide completed in 1710. No less important was the one formed around 1770 by the Duke of Württemberg, today in the Museum in Stuttgart.
In the Italian context it is worth mentioning at least the Museum formed by the Cardinal Gaspare di Carpegna, in the first half of the eighteenth century, which included coins, drawings, paintings and majolicas, which became later part of the heritage of the Vatican Library. The same happened for the one of the late eighteenth-century in Siena belonging to Galgano Saracini, that in a 1810 “Description” is defined as “vague and superb museum.” In the nineteenth century, during the Restoration there was a strengthening of the interest for majolica both in France and in England, now also seen as a financial investment, a trend that had already set in motion in the late eighteenth century. In Germany, at the same time, a special place is reserved to Goethe, who in his villa in Weimar since 1817 maintained a remarkable collection of Italian majolicas purchased in Nuremberg.
Italy continues to be the destination of collectors and foreign visitors, which nurture and develop the cult of the Italian Renaissance majolica. The ancient Italian residences treasured masterpieces according to a collecting idea which developed in the the private sphere, wrapped in special atmospheres of aristocratic charm, luxury reserved to few, an image of richness without space for the eye, but not without suggestions, according to a vision that will be perpetrated in the museology of the nineteenth century. Besides, the taste for accumulation seems to become in the late nineteenth century a true cultural model; European museum-houses (Jacquemart-André, Botkin, Basilewsky, Stibbert, Bagatti-Valsecchi, Davanzati, etc.) offer interiors sometimes with imaginary reconstructions of life in past centuries, decorations of walls overloaded with objects or tables with no space, as if they were antique shops, with a mix of furnishings of decorative art of all sizes and types, of which it is not easy to grasp the psychology of combinations.
Pringsheim house, for example, is a great sample of this vision of collecting. Set up inside of a German neo-Renaissance residence, in the years of “shining” Monaco, it is described by Thomas Mann as a cathedral a little obsessive of memories and untouchable relics, especially the majolicas concentrated in the dining room (fig. 2). For their acquisition a fundamental role was played by Otto von Falke, director of the Kunstgewerbemuseum of Berlin, who had led Alfred Pringsheim, mathematician and patron, to form the most important collection of Italian majolicas.
Monumental was also the catalogue of the same collection, consisting of three volumes of large format, two released on different dates (1914 and 1923) and the third drawn up in 1930, but published only in 1994. Through those pages we have the real perception of facing an extraordinary gallery of masterpieces: 441 works including Tuscan majolicas, from the most “archaic” to those fully Renaissance, but also from Faenza, Urbino, Venice, Umbria, from the types still Gothic to those from sixteenth century, both in luster and polychrome, illustrated through a magnificent set of four-colour reproductions, made from precious watercolours by Annette von Eckardt. A work that still represents a milestone for the history of collecting and an indispensable tool for the reconstruction of the collection path of the most significant works of Italian majolica, merged in major public and private collections in the world. We choose, as an example, a pharmaceutic albarello that is shown at figure 99 of the LVI table of Volume I (Fig. 3a), in such a precise way to facilitate the identification of its original, now housed in a prestigious Italian private collection (Fig. 3b).
The work is a fine specimen of the fervent activity of Deruta craftsmen, who, during the first half of the sixteenth century were able to pick up the lesson of the Umbrian Renaissance, transferring it masterfully on large “plates for pump” and on the potteries of apothecaries kits of rare color quality , always lively but also carefully dosed, sometimes enriched with the golden iridescent effect of “luster”. In this case , in full polychrome crystal-clear, a bust of “beautiful woman” in the garments and coiffure of the time is depicted, framed by a large festoon where elegant stylized leaves alternate with more or less flowered bulbs.
In the European context also a special place was occupied by the collection of the Rev. Thomas A. Berney, formed in the mid-nineteenth century, in the sale of which in June 1946 passed also majolicas of important properties, such as those of Lady Godfrey Faussett, Sir William J. Stirling and R.L.Fleming. Among the 80 works of the Berney collection there are several masterpieces, among which stands an historiated paper, dating from 1533-40, a master of the circle of Nicola da Urbino. It is a cup in which, in full-surface, is illustrated the episode in which the Emperor Tiberius on the throne, before which on a horse is imprisoned the king of Cappadocia Archelaus, declares subdued Asia (Fig. 4a) , also as specified by the caption drawn on the front “Chomo tiberio fe tributaia lasia suit” (fig. 4b).
The iconography of the scene is obtained from a woodcut (fol. CCXLIIIr) contained in the edition of Cassius Dione Historico Of Wars and of Roman Facts, printed in Venice in 1533 (Fig. 4c), “vulgarized” text particularly exploited by this master , which uses it also for other “historiated works”, including an almost identical version of the same subject, now in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford. Both are united by the fact that the scene is in reverse with respect to the woodcut, with the elimination of the figure standing behind on the left, but also from the clear palette, which has the same harmony of the poses of the protagonists, with very similar anatomical features of the characters , with the taste for architecture, absent in the graph model, inspired by that of the time. The work passed later in the collection of John Scott-Taggart, has considerable literature which first called his anonymous author “of the Milan Marsyas Painter” and recently instead refers to him as a hypothetical “Painter S”, author of a series of works that bear, in addition to the caption, a similar mark of that initial.
The European scene in the early decades of the twentieth century sees many other collecting realities , significant for quality and rarity of works. A plate “for pump” of Deruta, datable within the first half of the sixteenth century, for example, allows you to remember the collections Imbert and Ducrot. The first one was formed by the desire of Alessandro Imbert (1865-1943), French-born antique dealer, who settled in Rome in 1897, who had collected over time almost five hundred majolicas, as written by Gaston Migeon in the foreword to “Catalogue Descriptifs” of exhibition held in Paris in Pavillon de Marsan in March 1911.
The same plate then passed into one of the richest Italian bodies, the one formed by Mr Vittorio Ducrot, dispersed at the Pesaro Gallery in Milan in 1934, as shown by the sales catalogue (fig. 5a) edited by Gaetano Ballardini, then director of the Museum of Faenza. The work is barely recognized through a modest black and white which does not give prominence to all its qualitative value.
The original on the contrary allows to say that we are facing a superb essay of Deruta majolica of the genre said “amatory” as explicated by the dedicatory caption of the title block “FAVSTINA BELLA”, placed next to a bust of woman portrayed frontally (Fig. 5b); it is made of a sophisticated monochrome blue, enriched with gilt luster, emphasizing the clothing of fine fabrics, the elaborate headdress of time and the gradient of the woman’s facial features, expression of bashful grace: elements making these works an expression of direct descendants of the great Umbria painting of the early sixteenth century.
An even more complex chain of collectable steps characterizes the history of a plate, passed in the collections de Rothschild and Damiron. An effective drawing illustrates it in the catalogue of the latter, created by Charles Damiron (Fig. 6a), which handed down the private appearance in his monograph “Majoliques Italiennes,” published in 1944. The drawing, fine historiographical testimony, takes almost nothing away from the image that we place alongside the original, preserved today in an important Italian collection (Fig. 6b).
Its direct observation confirms that it is a remarkable work of the early sixteenth century, with a central medallion with a classic masculine profile, graduated and dressed in cloak, of peculiar stylistic manufacture especially in the horizontal stretching of the pointed beard, which gives an almost caricature acuteness to the character. No less interesting is the front of the work adorned with the so-called “petal-back” pattern, that is a stylized corolla with dotted petals, similarly present in both the Sienese production (thus, for example, a plate with Sani coat of arms of the Chigi Saracini collection in Siena) and in that of Deruta of the early sixteenth century, of which on the brim of the plate is resumed the typical repertoire complementary to the central theme, with regular fields with “grotesque” and “peacock feather eyes.”.
In the context of early twentieth century collecting a special place is occupied by the figure of Ercole Canessa (1868-1929), collector and art dealer, whose collection included furniture, sculptures, bronzes, classical antiquities and ceramics, allowing us to move outside Europe, especially with regard to the two sales of his collection that occurred in New York in 1924 and in 1930.
To Canessa belonged a small albarello, formerly collection Walters Caracciolo in Taormina, then passed on to that of the American banker Mortimer L. Schiff, from New York, who had an impressive collection, dispersed in the sale at Christie’s in London in 1938, including majolica memorabilia from the “archaic” period until the first decades of the sixteenth century. The albarello, reproduced in a table of his extensive catalogue, edited by Seymour de Ricci in 1927 (Fig. 7a), had a pharmaceutical destination, as indicated by the vertical scroll whose words “AB INNER IRIA” could refer to a preparation from an eastern region.
It unfolds in front of a Renaissance portrait, with a bust of canonically man in profile, traced with a masterly linear ductus, with carefully combed hair bobbed up behind him and with curled ends, partly covered by a hat with a long tip forward, placed within folder “savings”, which separates it from the remaining area that houses shrivelled leaves, of floral Gothic style, typical of the Italian majolica of the second 15th century (fig. 7b, c). It is still a quite problematic typology from an attributive point of view, since it looks like the classic product of osmosis that was established towards the end of the fifteenth century among various centres of Italian majolica, in this case between Pesaro and Naples.
The same Seymour de Ricci testifies as in Schiff collection is preserved another interesting essay of Renaissance portraiture (Fig. 8a), enclosed within a cup, today in the Toledo Museum, built in the “graffito” technique on slip, with a surface area varied from typical maculations of copper and iron oxides.
For the stylistic aspect, the work is closely correlated with another preparation, already in the Campe of Hamburg collection (Fig. 8b), to the point that it can be assumed that it is the same hand; in fact the two versions have in common the ductus of the graver which engraves without hesitation the folding of the eyebrow and the mouth, his plumed hat, the bobbed coiffure with three undulations, the polylobed gothic tile that frames the portrait, strictly in profile according to the portraits of medals of the fifteenth century.
In fact we collect the suggestion coming from the private owner of the work, which assumes it can be the portrait of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, Lord of Sabbioneta, of which in effect, observing the Ancient coin (Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi), it is possible to identify some facial characteristics (fig. 8c)
If we consider that the “graffiti” in the fifteenth century is a phenomenon mainly of the Po valley, with many manufacturers centers concentrated in Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, here is that these two works stand out as refined pottery samples of ” Renaissance Po graffiti “. With the dispersion of the great European collections and the consequent formation and organization of the British , French and German museums, from the mid-nineteenth century ceramic studies began and we witness the formation of real national schools, acquiring authority primarily through the first museum catalogues.
These were able to illuminate the matter without the common tones of Peninsular ceramic art after unification, that is, as recognized by Gaetano Ballardini, ” foreigners opened the highways in the tangle of paesane ambitions”, ambitions that, however, in the twentieth century turned towards what the scholar calls “consciousness ceramics”, thanks to which Italian studies have gradually adapted to an increasingly common European cultural approach.
Carmen Ravanelli Guidotti