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Bust of an Old Woman: C.1-1955

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 6 (Upper Marlay): case 3, shelf C


Bust of an Old Woman


Maker: Unknown (Probably)




Maiolica bust of an old woman, painted in polychrome.

Pale buff earthenware, tin-glazed on the exterior; underside unglazed. Painted in dark blue, green, yellow, orange, manganese-purple, and black. Modelled in the round; hollow underneath.
The old woman faces front, her head inclined to her right. She has a broad, smooth brow, a large nose, high cheek-bones, wide-set eyes and a slight double chin. Her mouth is set in a wide grimace showing the gaps in her teeth. She wears a close-fitting cap, half green, half yellow, with blue zig-zag stitching on the seams and two blue strings hanging down at the back. Her dress has a low neckline edged in yellow, above which is the top of her chemise, edged in blue and orange. The bodice is partly blue and partly green at the front, and partly manganese and partly brown with a black spiralling pattern at the back. Her right sleeve is purple and her left has a geometrical pattern in orange, yellow and black. She has a square jewel on a cord round her brow and a string of beads round her neck.


History note: Benjamin Fillon by 1878; Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 22 March 1882, Catalogue des objets d'art et de haute curiosité . . . composant la collection de feu Benjamin Fillon, lot 289, and pl. p. 112. Henry Oppenheimer; Christie's, 15 July 1936, Catalogue of the highly important collection of Italian majolika and bronzes, jewels, enamels, ivories, sculpture and works of art formed by the late Henry Oppenheimer Esq., FSA of 9 Kensington Palace Gardens, W 8., lot 46; purchased through Durlacher by Louis C.G. Clarke, Leckhampton House, Cambridge

Legal notes

Given by L.C.G. Clarke

Measurements and weight

Height: 20.9 cm
Width: 24 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Faenza ⪼ Emilia-Romagna ⪼ Italy

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Given (1955-03-03) by Clarke, Louis Colville Gray


15th Century, Late
16th Century, Early#
Circa 1490 CE - 1510 CE


The commemoration of individuals by realistic portraits, medals or busts became increasingly common in Italy during the fifteenth century. The earliest maiolica busts, excluding those decorated with coloured glazes from the Della Robbia workshop, were probably made between about 1490 and 1510. In the nineteenth century this bust was attributed to Cafaggiolo near Florence, but no evidence for the manufacture of maiolica sculpture there has yet come to light, and it seems more likely that the bust was made in Emilia-Romagna or the Marches. The colouring and glaze are comparable to maiolica relief sculpture attributed to Faenza or Pesaro, such as a large 'Lamentation over the Dead Christ' dated 1487 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1904.04.26a,b). The floral and geometrical motifs on the woman's costume are comparable to those on domestic and pharmaceutical pottery from those centres. Two larger maiolica busts of younger women are respectively in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (54.146), attributed possibly to Montelupo, and the Cleveland Museum of Art (40.344), which has more pronounced modelling, thicker white glaze, and a plain blue bodice, is attributed to Tuscany. A smaller female bust, actually a ewer, was once in the collection of Mrs Maxwell Macdonald of Pollok House, Pollokshaws, Glasgow. The Fitzwilliam's bust stands apart from these three-dimensional belle donne in its candid portrayal of gap-toothed middle age. The male maiolica busts which have survived from this period are more sculptural in style. An impressive polychrome bust of Christ is in the Getty Museum, Malibu, busts of the young St John the Baptist are n the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples. An uncoloured bust of Christ, attributed to Sansovino, is in a collection at Arezzo, and one of Pope Paul III is in the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche, Faenza.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

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

Materials used in production


Techniques used in production

Modeling (forming) : Pale buff earthenware, tin-glazed on the exterior; underside unglazed. Painted in dark blue, green, yellow, orange, manganese-purple, and black.

Inscription or legends present

Inscription present: rectangular with cut corners

  • Location: On the back
  • Method of creation: Inscribed in black ink
  • Type: Label

Inscription present: rectangular loan form for the 1930 Exhibition of Italian Art

  • Text: `Bust of old woman' and `Henry Oppenheimer Esq. 9 Kensington Palace Gdns.'
  • Method of creation: Typed inscription
  • Type: Label

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.1-1955
Primary reference Number: 80702
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Friday 15 December 2023 Last processed: Friday 15 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

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

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