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Vase with Biblical Scenes, including the Building of the Tower of Babel and the Scattering of the People

Workshop of Orazio Fontana, Italian (active Urbino), c. 1510 - 1571

Made in Urbino, Italy, Europe

c. 1560-1571

Tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica)

21 5/8 × 12 5/8 inches (54.9 × 32.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 250, European Art 1500-1850, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Bloomfield Moore Fund and Museum Funds, 1944

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This vase, one of a pair, is among the few pieces inscribed as from the workshop of Orazio Fontana. Orazio was recognized in his day as the innovator of the grotesque style of decoration as applied to maiolica. In color, line, and composition, this vase is superior to its pendant, but each of the vases showing biblical scenes was probably painted by more than one artisan. The range of styles and variable quality of the painting on these "signed" vases are indicative of the complexity of the productions from Orazio's workshop.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    By the mid-sixteenth century, Italians were unrivaled as makers of elaborate vessels with intricate painted decoration. This large vase is among a small number signed "made in Urbino in the workshop of Orazio Fontana," one of the best-known specialists in such ware. The basic materials are simple: earthenware covered with lead glaze on which tin-enameled colors are painted. The form, based on metalwork vases, combines a wheel-turned body with cast handles shaped as snakes. The medallions show carefully painted biblical compositions, including a scene of the Tower of Babel. In contrast is the surrounding decoration with elements ranging from the nonsensical to the outrageous, which combine to offer a lively example of the grotesque style, the fanciful language of ornament inspired by ancient Roman wall painting first uncovered in the 1480s. The Museum also possesses a signed mate to this vase, although the quality of their design and painting is very different. The unidentified painter of this example is notably superior, being among the most accomplished of later Renaissance ceramic artists. Dean Walker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 122.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.