IDEA Ceramics

IDEA Ceramics is dedicated to the study of Isabella d’Este’s maiolica “credenza” or service of dishes. Though little studied by scholars today, maiolica was a popular type of earthenware in sixteenth-century Europe. This type of ceramic was fired at a low temperature and covered in a tin glaze that created a white ground for colorful narratives and personal emblems. IDEA Ceramics reunites the surviving twenty-three individual maiolica dishes from Isabella’s credenza for study. Isabella d’Este’s maiolica dishes can no longer be viewed as a single service, and are now divided among museums and private collectors across three continents. By viewing all twenty-three dishes together, researchers have a better sense of service as a whole, in which the individual dishes, painted narratives of Ovid and Virgil, read like pages in a book.


Isabella d’Este’s maiolica service by master maiolica painter Nicola da Urbino is arguably the most famous set of Renaissance ceramics due its well-known patron, the use of Isabella’s coat of arms (joined Este and Gonzaga arms) and imprese (emblems), the documentation of its gifting in 1524 by Isabella’s daughter Eleonora Gonzaga, duchess of Urbino, for use at Isabella’s suburban villa, and its variety of narratives from sources such as Ovid and Virgil that were intended to please the discriminating patron. These narratives demonstrate Isabella’s inclination for commissioning and collecting classical iconography and her unusual taste among female patrons, who often were limited to religious subjects in their artistic commissions.

The goal of IDEA Ceramics is to illuminate one facet of Isabella’s collection. The short film The Illustrated Credenza provides an introduction to the making and commissioning of Renaissance maiolica, while the Ceramics Exhibit functions as a database to provide more in-depth information about individual dishes and data visualizations.

The digital tools of IDEA Ceramics permit researchers to explore the following features of Renaissance maiolica:

Artist, Iconography, Materials/Techniques, Date, Impresa (Emblem), Stemma (Coat of Arms for Armorial Service), Shape, Diameter, Production site, Original Patron, Current collection, and Literary Source.

Enter the Ceramics Exhibit here

Link to the Ceramics Exhibit Glossary here

Link to the Ceramics Exhibit Analysis here