A rare and previously unrecorded plate by the important Maiolica artist Francesco Xanto Avelli, dated 1537, has been uncovered by Lyon & Turnbull
auctioneers. The plate was discovered on a regular house valuation and is expected to realise over £100,000 at auction at Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh on the 7th December 2011. The plate is thought to have been purchased by the vendors family in Italy between 1894 and 1916.
Celia Curnow, ceramics consultant to Lyon & Turnbull said I have waited more than thirty years to see a piece of this quality outside a museum. In his 2007 exhibition held at Londons Wallace Collection devoted to Xanto, curator John Mallett, former Keeper of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London described Xanto as Pottery-Painter, Poet, Man of the Italian Renaissance.
Xanto Avelli was born in Italy, about 1486. Nothing at all is known of his origins, his education, or his early years; he was probably working in Urbino from 1522. Archival evidence records him as working in Urbino in 1530. 1530 is also the date on his earliest signed piece, a plate commemorating the coming New Year.
At around this time Xanto married a woman called Finalissa, also in Urbino. Over the following five years he produced a large body of work; each piece was signed in various manners, sometimes dated, signed and marked as a product of Urbino. Such consistency in signing his work was unusual at the time; there is some suggestion that the artist was blacklisted after the labour troubles of 1530, and that his choice to sign his works might be in some way related to his difficulties.
The front of the plate is decorated with a scene from the Life of Cyrus and shows Cyrus persuading the people of Persepolis to rise up against their Median rulers. Celia Curnow continued It is incredible that the colours on the plate are as vibrant today as when the plate was first seen in 1537 the reverse of the plate is as revealing as the front as it is fully inscribed by the artist and carries labels inscribed by previous owners of the plate over the years.
Mailoica is earthenware, made on a wheel or by the use of plaster moulds and fired to the biscuit or unglazed stage at approximately 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The resulting form is then covered with a coat of tin glaze. Later, when this has dried, the white surface can be painted using metallic pigments, for example blue from cobalt, green from copper, yellow from iron and brown from manganese. A final clear glaze is added and the piece is then fired a second time at 950 degrees centigrade.
The interaction of the water which remained in the biscuit form, the opaque lead glaze and the final metal oxide glazes interact in the kiln to create the deep and brilliant translucent color specific to majolica. It is this glaze, the tremendous variety of whimsical forms, and the intense colors of majolica that make this ceramic stand apart from other wares and delight collectors.