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The Holy Family: MAR.C.60-1912

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 7 (Courtauld)


The Holy Family


Painter: Milan Marsyas Painter (Possibly)
Painter: Xanto, Francesco (Possibly)
Printmaker: Caraglio, Giovanni Giacomo (After)
Painter: Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola) (After)


  • Cover
  • cover from an accouchement set bowl
  • tagliere



Maiolica cover from an accouchement set bowl, painted in polychrome with the Holy Family.

Pale buff earthenware, tin-glazed overall. Painted in blue, turquoise-green, yellow, orange, black, grey, and white. Circular with a flange on the underside; the upper surface flat with a convex rim.
The Holy Family in an architectural setting; on the rim, bound leaves and berries between concentric yellow bands. On the back, two putti standing on clouds support a shield bearing the arms sable, a fess or, a chief party per pale gules and argent two rosettes counterchanged flanked by the letters `ELI' and `PYA'; below, a winged putto's head. The background is blue above the arms and brown below. The flange and rim are yellow.


History note: Signora Angela Beni, San Severino (Marche); given by her to Giuseppe Ranaldi (1790-1854). Alessandro Castellani; Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 28 May 1878, Catalogue des faïences italiennes . . . et de deux pièces de la célèbre porcelaine des Medicis, composant l'importante collection de M. Alessandro Castellani, lot 292; C.B. Marlay before 1887.

Legal notes

C.B. Marlay Bequest

Measurements and weight

Diameter: 19.2 cm
Height: 1.9 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Urbino ⪼ The Marches ⪼ Italy

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1912) by Marlay, Charles Brinsley


16th Century, second quarter#
Production date: circa AD 1531


From at least the fifteenth century it was customary to give a new mother a little maiolica service to use for meals during her recovery after childbirth. In Romagna and the Marches these became known as 'un servizio da impagliata' because the word 'impagliata' was used to describe a woman during her lying-in. According to Cipriano Piccolpasso (c. 1523/4-79) in I tre libri del Arte del Vasaio, written about 1557, the services usually had five pieces arranged on top of each other: a standing bowl covered by a trencher, a drinking bowl on a foot, and a salt and its cover. These sets are mentioned in many fifteenth and sixteenth century inventories but apart from a salt in the Victoria and Albert Museum, only bowls and covers appear to have survived. Most of them are decorated with scenes of childbirth, the washing of babies, or women with small children. Others have childbirth scenes from the Bible or classical mythology, or subjects connected with qualities, such as valour, which it was hoped the child would acquire. The Holy Family on the top of this cover was derived from the 'Adoration of the Shepherds', engraved by Giovanni Giacomo Caraglio after Parmigianino (1503-40). It shows the Virgin Mary, Joseph and a female saint, around the new-born baby Jesus, who is cradled in the arms of a woman who has no halo, and was perhaps a midwife. The reverse is painted with two putti, the family’s coat-of- arms, and the initials, ‘ELI’ and ‘PYA’, said to be for the name of the father, ‘Elisio Piani’, an official of the Monte Pietà in Urbino in early sixteenth-century Urbino. A dish painted with the 'Judgement of Paris' by Francesco Xanto in 1531 bears the same coat-of-arms (Fitzwilliam Museum, C.86-1961).

If not painted by the 'Milan Marsyas Painter' this cover was probably painted by Francesco Xanto Avelli da Rovigo

Label text from the exhibition ‘Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800’, on display at The Fitzwilliam Museum from 26 November 2019 until 31 August 2020: Cover depicting The Holy Family from a (lost) accouchement set\nfrom a (lost) accouchement set Recovery from childbirth – the most dangerous experience in most women’s lives – required nourishing food, like sweetmeats or broths. In Italy, these were traditionally served from a maiolica set given to the new mother during her post-natal confinement period, often by her husband. It usually comprised 5 stacked pieces: a standing bowl and cover (that doubled as a plate), a footed drinking bowl, and a salt and its cover. The Nativity scene beautifully painted onto the upper side of this cover (tagliere) was meant to inspire the new mother, who would have looked to the Virgin and St Anne as models of

Label text from the exhibition ‘Madonnas and Miracles: The Holy Home in Renaissance Italy’, on display at The Fitzwilliam Museum from 7 March until 4 June 2017: This cover is the surviving part of a set of painted ceramic pieces traditionally given by a father to celebrate the safe delivery of his child. The nativity scene includes Mary, Joseph and a female saint; the central figure embracing the new-born Christ has no halo and may be a midwife. The scene is based on an engraving from a design by Parmigianino.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of high-temperature colours ( blue, turquoise-green, yellow, orange, black, grey, and white)

Materials used in production


Techniques used in production

Tin-glazing : Pale buff earthenware, tin-glazed overall, and painted in blue, turquoise-green, yellow, orange, black, grey, and white.

Inscription or legends present

Inscription present: I smaller than L and Y and A joined

  • Text: ELI PYA
  • Location: On back flanking arms
  • Type: Inscription

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: MAR.C.60-1912
Primary reference Number: 77384
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Monday 3 July 2023 Last processed: Friday 8 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

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

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "The Holy Family" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-07-21 14:57:59

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