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Plate with Hercules and the Hydra, with arms of Anne de Montmorency

Durantino (alias Fontana) Guido

Urbino, 1535

30.8cm (diameter)

tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica)

Inscribed on the reverse, Hercole amazza Lydra. In Botega de Mo Guido durantino in Urbino 1535 (Hercules killing the Hydra. In the workshop of Master Guido Durantino in Urbino). On the left is Hercules with his club and lion skin; to the right, with a flaming torch, his friend Iolaus. The figures, but not the architecture, are derived from an engraving made c.1524 by Gian Jacopo Caraglio, after the Florentine artist Rosso Fiorentino [see illustration], the engraving being one of a series of Hercules subjects. For another maiolica painting of Hercules and the Hydra, see WA1899.CDEF.C429.

The set was made in the pottery in Urbino belonging to Guido Durantino (i.e. Guido from Castel Durante), later known as Guido Fontana. The workshop run by Guido in association with his son Orazio Fontana was the most important producer of istoriato maiolica in Urbino from the 1530s until at least the 1560s. There is no certain evidence as to whether Guido himself painted maiolica, or was simply in charge of the workshop.

The arms hanging from a tree, beneath a coronet, are for Anne de Montmorency, Grand Maître of France and the greatest private art patron of the French Renaissance. Twenty-one pieces with mythological subjects are known from the set made for him in 1535, which was, at the time, the most ambitious commission for istoriato maiolica yet made for a foreign patron. Montmorency seems to have had a particular interest in pottery and was also an important patron of the French potters Bernard Palissy and Masseot Abaquesne, and of the mysterious wares known as “Saint-Porchaire”. It may be that the set was made as a gift to him for diplomatic purposes, but no documentation of this hypothesis has been found.

Bequeathed by C. D. E. Fortnum, 1899.  WA1899.CDEF.C508

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