Dish with the Destruction of Troy

Master Francesco di Piero, Italian (Castel Durante and Venice), active 1540 - 1560

Made in Venice, Italy, Europe


Tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica)

3 x 21 1/16 inches (7.6 x 53.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 254, European Art 1500-1850, second floor (Rubenstein Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the John D. McIlhenny Fund, 1943

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Francesco di Piero had workshops in both Castel Durante and Venice; the inscription on this dish documents that it was made in the latter city. The composition is adapted from a large fresco showing the battle of Constantine executed by Giulio Romano in the Vatican. The use of Romano's fresco is curious since the fall of Troy didn't involve this kind of battle. It is possible that the female figure being abducted by a horseman is intended to be Helen of Troy.

Maiolica is an Italian term used to describe a tin-glazed ceramic that reached the height of its popularity during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Fairly inexpensive, maiolica wares were suitable for everyday use, frequently taking the form of pharmacy jars, vases, and dishes.

Maiolica was born of a desire to emulate porcelain, a delicate and translucent form of pottery that until the eighteenth century only the Chinese knew how to make. The technique was a complicated multi-step process. First, the clay was collected, strained, and dried to a plastic consistency. Then it was shaped into the desired wares, by wheel, mold, or hand and fired in a kiln. Once fired, the ceramic was covered with an opaque white glaze containing tin, an expensive metal imported into Italy from England or the Low Countries (present-day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg). The porous ceramic absorbed this glaze immediately, leaving a powdery white coating on the surface. It was then painted using pigments made from ground metals suspended in water. The most common pigments were made from metallic oxides: copper made green, iron made orange, manganese made purple, cobalt made blue, antimony made yellow, and tin made white. Again the ceramic absorbed the water in the paint, leaving the pigments on the surface and making it nearly impossible to correct any errors or change the composition. When the painting was completed, some vessels were coated with a shiny lead glaze, and then all were fired again at a slightly lower temperature.

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