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A Political Allegory: C.14-1953

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 7 (Courtauld)


A Political Allegory


Painter: Avelli, Francesco Xanto (Probably)
Printmaker: Raimondi, Marcantonio (After)
Printmaker: Dente, Marco (Marco da Ravenna) (After)




Maiolica dish, painted in polychrome with A Political Allegory.

Buff earthenware, tin-glazed overall; the reverse greyish and tinged with green. Painted in blue, green, turquoise, yellow, orange, stone, brown, manganese-purple, black, and white.
Shape 57. Circular with a wide, slightly sloping rim and small, deep well; the underside of the rim moulded with three bands of reeding.
A Political Allegory. A man in armour all'antica holding a trident stands on the left accompanied by a horse and a cock. On the right, a nude man with a billowing cloak is poised to make a blow with a curved sword held in his right hand. In the foreground there is a pebbly path and grass; on the right, rocks and a tree; and in the background, a river running past fortifications towards distant mountains. The edge is yellow. The back is inscribed in the middle in dark blue: `fuggi spagna: Marcho/et francia./nota y' (flee Spain: Mark and France. take note y).


History note: Henry Harris; Sotheby's, 20 June 1950, Catalogue of fine Italian maiolica from the well-known collection of the late Henry Harris, Esq. . . ., lot 110; Alfred Spero; Marmaduke Langdale Horn (1889-1953).

Legal notes

M.L. Horn Bequest

Measurements and weight

Diameter: 27 cm
Height: 4.5 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Urbino ⪼ The Marches ⪼ Italy

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1953-10-22) by Horn, Marmaduke Langdale


16th Century, second quarter#
Circa 1528 CE - 1530 CE


Dishes signed with a y or phi are considered on stylistic grounds to have been painted by Francesco Xanto Avelli from Rovigo in the Vento, whose presence in Urbino is documented between 1530 and 1542. Apart from his distinctive style, Xanto's work is remarkable in several ways. Most maiolica painters derived their designs from prints or book illustrations, but Xanto carried their use beyond ingenuity to repetitiousness. His deployment of a now well-defined group of prints as 'figure banks' from which to construct scenes resulted in wide variations in the quality of his work. Many of his compositions are highly successful, but others are extremely awkward with little relationship between the figures. The figures on this dish were taken from two prints of the 'Massacre of the Innocents': the nude man whielding the sword from the engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael (Bartsch XIV, p. 19, no. 18; Illustrated Bartsch, 26, 1978, p. 33, no. 21), and the man with the trident from the version by Marco Dente after Baccio Bandinelli (Bartsch XIV, p. 24, no. 21; Illustrated Bartsch, 26, 1978, p. 33, no. 21). His obsession with the dramatic and terrible political events of the late 1520s and early 1530s, singles him out from his contemporaries. Many of this dishes are decorated with political allegories with pro-imperial, anti-papal, or anti-Medicean themes connected with the Sack of Rome in 1527, and some have a violent, sadistic quality which is entirely absent from the work of other maiolica painters.Interest has necessarily centred on the interpretation of these thems and what they reveal about Xanto. It may never be known whether his patrons (or perhaps more correctly, his employer's patrons) ordered these political subjects, or whether Xanto included them at his own discretion in services or sets of mythological, historical, or religious subjects, such as the Three Crescents service, and the Pucci service (See C.10-1953 and C.11-1953). Xanto appears to have been more highly educated than the other maiolica painters in Urbino, and displayed his erudition by inscribing both the title and the literary sources of his compositions on the verse of dishes. These mainly refer to translations of Latin works, or to poetry by Petrarch or Ariosto. He also signed his name or initials much more frequently than any other painter. In the late 1530s however, he became more casual, often using 'Xanto', 'X.X.A.R.' or just 'X'. The sign resembling a y or phi sign in Greek occurs on plates bearing his signature, and more rarely on ones with the signature of his associates, such as Giulio da Urbino. The sign often follows the word 'nota' as here, or 'historia' or 'fabula' painted, which date from about 1527 to 1530. Its meaning is unclear, but it seems to be used as an abbreviation instead of completing a citation.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of high-temperature colours ( blue, green, turquoise, yellow, orange, stone, brown, manganese-purple, black, and white)

Materials used in production


Techniques used in production

Moulding : Buff earthenware, tin-glazed overall; the reverse greyish and tinged with green. Painted in blue, green, turquoise, yellow, orange, stone, brown, manganese-purple, black, and white.

Inscription or legends present

  • Text: fuggi spagna: Marcho/et francia./nota y'
  • Location: On the base
  • Method of creation: Painted in dark blue
  • Type: Inscription

Inscription present: rectangular with red printed border

  • Text: Harris collection/Borenius Catalogue/ No.42/Illustrated/Probably Xanto
  • Location: On back
  • Method of creation: Inscribed in blue-black ink
  • Type: Label

Inscription present: rectangular

  • Text: 'typed `painted by Xanto. "Spagnia e Francia". The edge/damaged./From the collection of the late Henry Harris.' and in pencil `8'
  • Location: On back
  • Method of creation: Typed and in pencil
  • Type: Label

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.14-1953
Primary reference Number: 71966
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Tuesday 27 February 2024 Last processed: Tuesday 27 February 2024

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

This record can be cited in the Harvard Bibliographic style using the text below:

The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "A Political Allegory" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-06-21 22:02:18

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{{cite web|url= |title=A Political Allegory |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2024-06-21 22:02:18|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

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