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Dish with the Story of Erysichthon, with arms of Scheuffelin

Urbino, c. 1560

26.6 cm (diameter); cm (diameter)

tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica)

This large plate is from an armorial service made for the Scheuffelin family of Nördlingen in southern Germany. The subject is from Ovid's Metamorphoses, book 8, and tells of how King Erysichthon deliberately cut down a tree sacred to Ceres, goddess of agriculture, and was punished by an attack of insatiable hunger. In the centre is Erysichthon cutting down the tree; to the right a man beheaded by the king when he attempted to prevent the desecration; top-left, a messenger from Ceres goes to fetch Famine in a dragon-drawn chariot while, centre-left, Famine descends on the sleeping Erysichthon. The last we hear of the character in Ovid, hunger has increased to the extent that he has begun to eat himself and is rapidly dwindling away. The composition is taken from a woodcut in Le Trasformationi di M Lodovico Dolce, an Italian verse adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, first published in Venice in 1553 [see illustration]. The inscription on the reverse of the dish, Cra:sitono, is an alternative spelling of Erysichthon, appearing in some 16th-century Italian versions of Ovid's book (but, curiously, not the 1553 one).

The signs of infill painting in blue around the arms may possibly indicate that a space was left by the principal painter for the arms to be painted in by a specialist heraldic painter.

The armorial services made for German, French and Spanish families in the 16th-century are spectacular evidence of the international success enjoyed by Italian maiolica workshops and provide an interesting field for study. Most of the Scheuffelin service remains in Germany, including four pieces in the Goethe Museum in Weimar, two in the Schlossmuseum Weimar, and six in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum in Brunswick; one was destroyed in Berlin in World War II. The cataloguer of the Brunswick collection, Dr. Johanna Lessmann, tentatively attributes the service to the Fontana workshop in Urbino, but no convincing parallels with marked pieces have been found. Fortnum believed the plate to be a product of the workshop of Girolamo dalle Gabicce in Pesaro.

Presented by C. D. E. Fortnum, 1888.  WA1888.CDEF.C420

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