Skip to main content

Nativity Inkstand: C.2179-1928

An image of Inkstand

Photograph copyright © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Terms of use

These images are provided for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons License (BY-NC-ND). To license a high resolution version, please contact our image library who will discuss fees, terms and waivers.

Download this image

Creative commons explained - what it means, how you can use our's and other people's content.

Colours in this image

Alternative views

Object information


Nativity Inkstand


Attributed to Giovanni di Nicola di Manzoni of Colle (Maker)


Maiolica inkstand with a three-dimensional Nativity group at the back, and an inkwell and candlesocket on either side

Dark buff earthenware, tin-glazed on the upper surfaces; base streaked with glaze. Painted in dark blue, green, yellow, brownish-orange, and manganese-purple. Modelled in the form of a shallow tray with a Nativity group in the round at the back, a cylindrical inkwell on the right, and a smaller cylindrical candle socket (incorrectly restored) on the left. The Virgin Mary and St Joseph kneel on either side of a wattle stall occupied by an ox and an ass. The infant Christ lies on a wavy-edged cloth between them. In front of the figures is a space for pens, enclosed by a low wall, decorated on the exterior with strapwork.


History note: G.R. Harding & Sons, King Street, London, from whom purchased for £35 on 4 March 1910 by Dr J.W.L. Glaisher

Legal notes

Dr J.W.L. Glaisher Bequest

Measurements and weight

Depth: 17.1 cm
Height: 15.8 cm
Length: 21.5 cm

Relative size of this object

21.5 cm15.8 cm17.1 cm What does this represent?

Relative size of this object is displayed using code inspired by Good Form and Spectacle's work on the British Museum's Waddeson Bequest website and their dimension drawer. They chose a tennis ball to represent a universally sized object, from which you could envisage the size of an object.

Place(s) associated

  • Colle Val d'Elsa ⪼ Tuscany ⪼ Italy

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1928-12-07) by Glaisher, J. W. L., Dr


Early 16th Century
Circa 1509 CE - 1510 CE


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: A household object such as this inkstand allowed its owner to recall the Holy Family while writing or doing accounts. In the colourful rustic scene, watched by Joseph and the animals, Mary adores the baby Jesus, who lies naked and motionless on a cloth like a corpse, as if to foretell his eventual death.

Maiolica inkstands with three-dimensional figures were the ceramic equivalents of the bronze candle- and inkstands made by fifteenth-century sculp¬tors such as Riccio. They enjoyed a fairly short period of popularity from probably about 1490 to between 1510 and 1515, and then seem to have been less fashionable until about 1570.

This inkstand was formerly attributed doubtfully to Faenza, but on the basis of the inscriptions on other inkwells in which the maker describes himself as either DECOLLE or ACHOLLE, and the discovery of a manuscript which confirms that the Manzoni family had a pottery at Colle Val d'Elsa (Siena), and concerns its sale in 1530, it has been reattributed. See Wilson and Sani, 2007, for an extract from the notarial document. It therefore seems possible that similar inkstands without inscriptions and the three-dimensional model (C.2180-1928) were made there. This inkstand has had the inkpot on the right incorrectly restored. On other examples the pot is not cylindrical, but of a bulbous pot shape. See Documentation, La Grazia dell'Arte, for an inkstand with the original bulbous inkpot.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of high-temperature colours ( dark blue, green, yellow, brownish-orange, and manganese-purple) Figures

Materials used in production

dark buff Earthenware Tin-glaze

Techniques used in production


References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.2179-1928
Primary reference Number: 80698
Old object number: 3106
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Wednesday 25 November 2020 Last processed: Sunday 28 November 2021

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 (2022) "Nativity Inkstand" Web page available at: Accessed: 2022-05-29 07:04:16

Citation for Wikipedia

To cite this record on Wikipedia you can use this code snippet:

{{cite web|url= |title=Nativity Inkstand |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2022-05-29 07:04:16|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

Bootstrap HTML code for reuse

To use this as a simple code embed, copy this string:

                <div class="text-center my-3">
                    <figure class="figure">
                        <img src=""
                        alt="Nativity Inkstand"
                        class="img-fluid" />
                        <figcaption class="figure-caption text-info">Nativity Inkstand</figcaption>

Please enter your name as you would like to be addressed
Please enter your email address
The object accession number - this is prefilled
Please enter your query with as much detail as possible

More objects and works of art you might like


Accession Number: C.982-1928


Accession Number: C.229A-1991

Inkstand with River God

Accession Number: C.229 & A-1991


Accession Number: C.981-1928

Suggested products from Curating Cambridge

You might be interested in this...

Sign up for updates

Updates about future exhibitions and displays, family activities, virtual events & news. You'll be the first to know...