The scene depicted on this rare plaque is after Raphael’s Christ Falls on the Way to Calvary (1515-1516), originally painted for the Church of S.Maria dello Spasimo in Palermo, and now in the Prado Museum, Madrid. The composition derives from a printed source, Agostino Veneziano’s engraving The Bearing of the Cross1. This was a printed source that had been used during the 1520s on similar plaques by the distinguished Urbino decorators Francesco Xanto Avelli2 and Nicola da Urbino3.
The plaque was previously attributed to the workshop of Baldessare Manara but more recent research suggests that it was most likely to have been painted in Urbino, rather than being a product of other pottery centres producing ‘istoriato’ maiolica at this date such as Faenza. It was painted by a decorator who knew Xanto’s work and who had possibly worked in Nicola da Urbino’s workshop in the mid to late 1530s. It is a fine, interesting, and well painted piece, the figures confidently and coherently placed within the space with distinctive facial features that closely follow the printed source and reflect the ‘istoriato’ styles of Urbino, found in Nicola Da Urbino and more especially Xanto’s work of the mid to late 1530s. However, by 1541 Nicola is dead and Xanto’s style diminished and after 1542 we lose trace of him. Furthermore, it is not the work of Xanto’s followers or collaborators from the mid-1530s onwards, such as Giulio da Urbino, “Lu. Ur.”, or Sforza di Marcantonio.
A more convincing comparison can be made to a shallow bowl in the Widener collection (NGA Washington), with the image of the ‘Death of Laocoön and his Two Sons', attributed to an as yet unidentified follower of Xanto.4 5 This has many of the stylistic features of the present plaque, and is dated 1539 only two years earlier.
The fragmentary label to the reverse appears to read: Questo [...] o/ Appassionato/ [...] in [...] croce in spalla/ fu fatto come si vede, l'anno/ 1541. Le pi[...] in Terra C[otta]/ in [..]riaf[..] simili à qu[esto?]/ e [...] [?]allera [...]/ [...] Vasari nelle Vi [=Vite]/ [...] 263 sul/ [...] Robbia,/ quale [...]/ Francia [...] a/ Girolamo suo [...]
There are two figures in the Poniatowski family to whom the plaque may have belonged. The first being Prince Josef Anton Poniatowski (1763-1813). He was the nephew of the last king of independent Poland, Stanislas Auguste Poniatowski. He was a famous general who fought in the polish army against the Russians in 1792 and took part in the anti-Russian revolt of 1794, led by Kosciuszko. In 1807 Napoleon appointed him commander-in-chief of the Duchy of Warsaw and he was made a marshal of France during the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. During that battle he was wounded. The bridge across the Elster river had been blown up and he drowned while attempting to lead his troops across, giving his life for his homeland and becoming a national hero. Prince Josef had a cousin, Stanislaw Poniatowski (1754-1833), a wealthy nobleman, politician and diplomat. He had a passion for the arts and for collecting and among other things had a large collection of carved intaglios. He emigrated to Italy, living there for over thirty years. He owned property in Rome and Florence, including the Palazzo Capponi in via Larga, Florence, where he housed his art collection. Works of art from his collection, and apparently from his cousin Prince Josef, were sold by Christie's in 1839, primarily including the intaglio gems, but also works of art and maiolica, then known as 'Raffaelle Ware'. While the Urbino plaque in the current lot is not believed to have been listed in the contents of the sale it shows that maiolica did feature in the collection of either Prince Josef and/or Stanislaw and suggests that the Urbino plaque in this lot may have originally belonged to Prince Josef Poniatowski.
The second possible owner of the plaque is a figure who was also, in later life, known as Prince Joseph (Michal) Poniatowski (1816-1873). He was the son of Stanislaw Poniatowski and the nephew of the Polish general discussed above, Prince Josef Anton Poniatowski. He was born out of wedlock but he was legitimated as a son of Stanisław Poniatowski in 1847 and he was awarded the title Prince Poniatowski by the Austrian Emperor in 1850. A singer, opera composer and politician, he spent all his life abroad, firstly in Italy, then in France. After the fall of the Second Empire Poniatowski accompanied Napoleon III into exile in London in 1871. He died in Kent in 1873. It is possible that he inherited the Urbino plaque in this lot from his father’s art collection.
The history of the Earls of Breadalbane and Holland stretches far back into the late 17th century in Scotland, and the family can trace their origins to the early 13th century. During the 19th century the power and wealth of the family was at its peak, as was their influence on Scottish society. The family seat, Taymouth Castle, was built between 1806 and 1842 by John Campbell, 4th Earl and 1st Marquess of Breadalbane, to a dramatic Neo-Gothic design, on the banks of the river Tay. In September 1842 the 2nd Marquess, John Campbell, played host to a splendid four-day visit from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and it is believed that the Queen’s visit to Taymouth confirmed her love of Scotland and the Highlands, where she went on to purchase Balmoral in 1852.
The plaque was most likely acquired by a member of the Breadalbane family at some point during the 19th century, when the elaborately carved frame, bearing the Breadalbane family crest, would have been specially commissioned to display the plaque. It is not currently known precisely where or when the plaque was acquired, but this could be revealed with further research. However, there is a firm connection between the Breadalbane family and Poniatowski works of art. John Campbell, the 2nd Marquess of Breadalbane (1796-1862) was a man of extreme wealth who spent vast fortunes on his homes, their contents and works of art. Sometime around 1850-1860 he commissioned the 'Breadalbane Vase-Candelabrum', a massive six-foot-tall silver, silver gilt and damascened piece, made by Antoine Vechte for Hunt & Roskell. It was inset with forty-six hardstone intaglio gems from the Poniatowski collection. The vase was displayed to great acclaim at the International Exhibition in London in 1862. It is not currently known if the 2nd Marquess acquired the Poniatowski gems himself or if they were provided for the vase by Hunt & Roskell. However, if John Campbell, the 2nd Marquess, purchased the gems himself, either when they were offered for sale at Christie’s in 1839 or at a subsequent date this connection with works of art from the Poniatowski collectiont suggests that it may have been him who acquired the Urbino maiolica plaque in this lot.
The plaque was passed by family descent to the current vendor, through the ownership of The Hon. Caroline Mary Morgan Grenville (1886-1972), a granddaughter of the third Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, whose mother, Lady Mary, was the daughter of the 4th Earl and 1st Marquis of Breadalbane.
Bartsch, Adam von Le peintre-graveur, Degen, Vienna, 1803-21
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