Italian maiolica is the most revealing of Renaissance decorative arts. These ceramics of tin-glazed earthenware have been prized traditionally for their variety of shapes, ornamentation, complicated compositions and ambitious subjects. The finest collection in private hands in the United States is that formed by Howard Stein and his late wife. To celebrate the gift of this collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum presents Italian Renaissance Ceramics: The Howard I. and Janet H. Stein Collection in which seventy pieces collected by the Steins are brought together with related ceramics from Museum holdings. The exhibition will be on view from December 8, 2001 through April 28, 2002. It marks the first comprehensive exhibition and publication of the collections.
"We are honored by Howard Stein's gracious gift of significant and beautiful examples of Renaissance ceramics," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "The Stein collection, previously known to only a small group of experts, combines wonderfully with the Museum's existing holdings to form what now becomes one of the most important collections of maiolica in the country."
The exhibition, organized by Dean Walker, The Henry P. McIlhenny Senior Curator of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture will be installed in four of the Renaissance Galleries (250, 251, 254, 255) on the second floor of the Museum. Each gallery focuses on themes or periods covering more than 100 years of ceramic production.
The earliest wares appear with the much-loved ceramics by members of the della Robbia family of Florence. Among the rarities are a superb early Florentine footed jar shown alongside a Spanish ceramic that inspired its decoration and a large cylindrical drug jar with the head of a Moor dated 1501, from a famous, boldly painted set now dispersed among major museums.
Another room displays objects from Deruta, mostly decorated with distinctive brilliant metallic luster glazes. These include utilitarian pieces such as richly decorated basins, footed dishes, and a plate from a service made for the Medici pope Clement VII, and large display plates depicting popular subjects like St. Jerome, a Turkish warrior on horseback, and the heads of beautiful women.
A large gallery is devoted to istoriato or narrative objects, the first Western ceramics since antiquity to illustrate literary themes. "The range of istoriato pieces is one of the great strengths of the Stein collection," commented Walker. "Together, objects from the Steins' and the Museum's collections present the development of the istoriato style from the best known early Urbino painters Nicola da Urbino and Francesco Xanto, through the productions of the important Fontana family workshops of mid century, to masters active in other Italian centers like Venice and even France. The subjects depicted from the Bible and ancient mythology and history give us a window into the ideals and also the literary entertainment favored by the educated Renaissance elite. No other U. S. collection presents this subject in quite such depth. A number of pieces were owned formerly by distinguished English and French collectors such as Alexander Barker, Sir Francis Cook, and Baron Adolphe de Rothschild."
A final room contains a range of later objects for daily use. Highlights include a group of the rare ceramic bowls and trays created for women recovering from childbirth, painted with charming domestic views, and an exceptional selection of drug jars--richly decorated but important functional components in Renaissance hospital pharmacies--including works from important painters like Domenego da Venezia in Venice, Orazio Fontana in Urbino, and Maestro Simone da Colonello of Castel Durante.
The collector, Howard Stein, an Honorary Trustee of the Museum, is chairman of Rite Check Financial Services based in New York. The Steins formed their collection primarily from works acquired at auctions in New York City and London over a twenty-five year period. Essentially bracketed by the sale of the collection of the Norton Simon Foundation in 1971 and that of the London art dealer Cyril Humphris in 1995, this interval witnessed the transformation of the market from one of momentary apathy to one of intense international competition.
The exhibition of 100 pieces is accompanied by a richly illustrated publication, Italian Renaissance Ceramics from the Howard I. and Janet H. Stein Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by well-known maiolica scholar Wendy M. Watson, Curator of the Mount Holyoke Museum of Art, with an essay by Dean Walker. It will be published by the Museum in December 2001 to coincide with the opening of the exhibition.
Italian Renaissance Ceramics: The Howard I. and Janet H. Stein Collection is generously supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions.