High-fired tin-glazed ceramics are of Middle Eastern origin. Maiolica was originally the name for lustre-finish Moorish pots shipped to Italy from Mallorca, but the name became linked with Italian Renaissance pottery. Providing a major step forward from the simple yellow, green and brown of lead glazes, tin-glazed pottery spread first through Italy and then Europe. The white cover glaze enabled the splendid, vivid colours to come through, and maiolica wares became favoured ornaments in royal courts in the early 15th century. The istoriato style, involving narratives painted on to the dish in one or more scenes was one of the most interesting forms of ornamentation used. Maiolica painters, following instructions from their patrons, took the subjects of their pictures largely from classical authors. The stories of Ovid, Virgil, Valerius Maximus, Livy and Suetonius come to life on the istoriato wares, mainly bowls, but Biblical scenes are also quite common. This outstanding piece from the maiolica collection bears a scene from a story by Ovid, the moment when Jupiter, armed with his powers of terror and destruction, appears before the object of his love, Semele. (Ovid, Metamorphoses III, 298–301). Semele, daughter of King Kadmos, at the persuasion of the jealous and hurt Juno, asks her suitor to show himself as a god, not knowing that the destructive fire of lightning could burn her mortal body. The denouement of the drama is hinted at by the beautiful princess’ sarcophagus-like bed. Another interesting feature of the bowl is that it was first taken to the workshop of Giorgio Andreoli in Gubbio, where some details of the composition, mainly the outlines, were enhanced with lustre painting and metallic-sheen decoration.


  • Title: Jupiter and Semele
  • Date Created: 1529
  • Location Created: Urbino, Italy
  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings: Signed on the bottom: De Giove e Semele - f.L.R. 1529 - Mo. Giorgio das Ugubio
  • Provenance: Acquired at the auction of the collection of Frigyes Spitzer in Paris, 1893 (earlier in the collection of Samuel Adington)
  • Place Part Of: Italy
  • Physical Dimensions: w26 x h5 cm (Complete)
  • Painter: Francesco Xanto Avelli
  • Type: Dish
  • Rights: Museum of Aplied Arts, Budapest, 2012
  • External Link: http://collections.imm.hu/gyujtemeny/disztal-jupiter-es-szemele-tortenetenek-abrazolasaval/834
  • Medium: Maiolica, tin-glazed

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