C50: Maiolica dish: Suzannah and the Elders
View larger photo
© The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath
|Title||Maiolica dish: Suzannah and the Elders|
|Object type||In category: Ceramics » Dish|
|Place of origin||Europe » Southern Europe » Italy » Central Italy » Marche » Urbino|
24.1 cm diameter
|Materials & techniques||
Round, fluted crispina tazza dish. Story of Suzannah and the Elders painted on front. Painted in green, blue, yellow, brown, black, white oxides.
|Marks and inscriptions||
The painted istoriato (story telling) on this dish depicts the Old Testament tale of Susannah and the Elders taken from the Book of Daniel. During the Renaissance period, particular themes like the loves of the gods, and ‘virtuous women’ were popular for illustration on maiolica ware. Susannah was the virtuous wife of a respected member of society. After dismissing her servants, Susannah undressed to bathe whereupon the Elders subjected her to their amorous advances. She refused to allow them to ‘seduce’ her even though she knew that her refusal would mean the Elders would accuse her of adultery. Daniel’s intervention saved Susannah; he interrogated each Elder separately to reveal their lies. The Elders each named a different species of tree under which Susannah allegedly committed adultery. The story was often used by artists to provide a legitimate and contextually relevant depiction of a female nude. The best maiolica was a means for its owners to display their wealth, erudition in humanist learning, along with the intention of entertainment and the sensuous pleasure of eating. A depiction of female nakedness depends on the object it adorns, its location and its intended use in order to gain meaning. Susannah painted on the maiolica dish could potentially have very different connotations from a religious painting. Therefore, the voyeuristic nature of this scene both contradicts and underpins the social value of these types of narratives. Tales of virtuous women, like Susannah, were popular as they functioned as an exemplar for the chaste behaviour expected of married women. These themes could instruct young women on acceptable social conduct. Consequently istoriato depictions painted on maiolica services, in particular, made them socially appropriate as gifts from women to women.
Isabella d’Este’s daughter commissioned a gift of an istoriato maiolica service for her mother. In a letter to Isabella, she comments on the suitability of the maiolica service for her country villa. However rather than relating to its suitability for female social conduct, this letter refers to the sumptuary laws that were introduced to try to regulate conspicuous consumption to an appropriate level for particular social classes. In this case, to use gold- or silverware outside the grand palazzo for anything less than the most formal banquet was considered improper and vulgar.
Most of the maiolica-ware in the collection was made using the traditional foot-powered wheel; the later crispina shape of this dish was produced in a plaster mould to emulate fashionable and expensive silverware.. The colours found on this dish are primarily tints and tones of blue, yellow, green and brown. A border of yellow with a blue line running through it edges the dish. The colours are warmer and less intensely saturated than most of the others in the collection, with the exception of the Achilles and Patroclus plate (C3). This suggests work produced in the Veneto region. The unfired glazes being of indiscriminate colours were hard to work with, as was the dried powdery surface tin-glaze. Its absorbency made it difficult to paint on. Consequently, it was impossible to correct any mistakes made by the painter. This could explain why Susannah’s breasts are miss-shaped, why one of her fingers is too long and wedge-shaped and why her limbs are disproportionate.
The quality of the painting is varied. The form of Susannah suggests a derivation of the classical Venus-pudica pose. Susannah, swathed in a circular billowing fabric, stands leaning forward slightly, possibly as she prepares to bathe, or defensively to cover her nakedness before the prying Elders eager gaze. This is not a typical Susannah depiction, more often she is portrayed seated or semi-reclining her body artfully and alluringly arranged to best reveal her nakedness to the viewer. The swathe of fabric billowing around this Susannah is a classical device frequently used in the portrayal of bathing nymphs and scenes of Diana hunting to suggest movement and artistic virtuoso.
Goldthwaite, Richard A. “The Economic and Social World of Italian Renaissance Maiolica”
Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 1-32, The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Renaissance Society of America
Syson, Luke and Thornton, Dora, Objects of Virtue Art in Renaissance Italy, 2004 (2001), The British Museum Press, London.
Coerver, Chad, “Donna/Dono: Chivalry and Adulterous Exchange”, p200 in Miles, Margaret, Carnal Knowing: Female Nakedness and Religious Meaning in the Christian West, 1989;1992
|Muse theme||The Art of Collecting
The History of the Holburne Collection » The Collection » Ceramics
|Provenance||Sir Thomas William Holburne (1793-1874); by whom bequeathed to Mary Anne Barbara Holburne (1802-1882), by whom bequeathed to the Museum|