IDEA Ceramics worked together with the Digital Innovation Lab at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to construct a database for aggregate analysis of decorated maiolica during the time of Isabella d’Este. Using the Lab’s software toolkit Prospect, we designed a database of decorated, narrative maiolica with information about individual pieces, the artists who created them, and visualizations to use for classes and for your own research.
Visit this tutorial for more information about Prospect and how to take advantage of the exhibit’s features.
Glossary for Exhibit
Tin-glazed earthenware popular during the Italian Renaissance.
A porous pottery fired at a low temperature.
Impaled Coat of Arms
The combination of two family coats of arms/heraldry. The Ceramics Exhibit includes Gonzaga arms impaling Este for Isabella d’Este’s maiolica, as well as Gonzaga arms impaling Paleologa for Margherita Paleologa’s maiolica.
Emblem or device containing a symbol or motto.
Isabella d’Este’s Imprese
Isabella d’Este’s motto, Nec Spe Nec Metu (neither hope, nor by fear), would emphasize her moderate countenance, while demonstrating her knowledge of Latin. In 1505 or 1506 Mario Equicola published a book on Isabella’s impresa, entitled, Nec Spe Nec Metu.
The intertwined initials, Y and S, were unique to Isabella and identified her as the maiolica credenza’s owner. She used the Greek “Y” instead of an “I” as the first initial of her name.
The number XXVII, pronounced venti-sette, is believed to have been a pun on “vinte saette” (arrows overcome).
Alpha and Omega
Isabella d’Este’s Christian piety and familiarity with Greek were demonstrated through her use of the alpha and omega.
Tempi e Pause
The series of symmetrical tempi e pause (musical times and rests) signified silence, a virtue desirable for any woman, as demonstrated in Castiglione’s dialogue, The Book of the Courtier.
The bundles of lottery tickets are thought to represent Isabella’s unpredictable fortune.
The candelabrum, once believed to have been a symbol of mourning for Francesco II Gonzaga’s death, was actually in use seven years before Isabella’s consort died. Isabella may have adopted the device as an expression of sadness when her son, Federico II Gonzaga, was held hostage in Rome.
Francesco II Gonzaga’s Impresa
The emblem of gold bars in a fiery crucible (a vessel in which the purity of metal could be tested) was an impresa of Francesco II Gonzaga, consort of Isabella d’Este. He adopted the fiery crucible to symbolize his uncompromised honor following the Battle of Taro. After the battle, the Venetians relieved Francesco of his duty as captain, believing that he had covertly switched his allegiance to the French. Francesco always maintained his innocence. Isabella may have appreciated how it served as a reminder of her deceased husband’s incorruptibility, and she may have also wanted to appropriate its positive connotations related to purity and power.
Federico II Gonzaga’s Impresa
Duke Federico II Gonzaga’s maiolica service included the Mount Olympus impresa, a marker of power and virtue, which consisted of an illustration of the mountain accompanied by the inscriptions “FIDES” in Latin majuscules and “OΛYMΠOS” in Greek. Though some scholars have suggested that Charles V granted the impresa for Federico’s use following the battle of Pavia in 1522, the emblem was already used to decorate Gonzaga coins around 1520. In addition to maiolica, Federico II Gonzaga’s impresa decorated rooms in the Palazzo Ducale and the Palazzo Te, and his portrait bust.
— Lisa Boutin Vitela