Dish with Diana and the Revival of Hippolytus
Nicola di Gabriele Sbraghe, called Nicola da Urbino, Italian (active Urbino), recorded 1520, died 1537/38
This dish comes from a famous service of tin-glazed ceramics decorated by the great maiolica painter Nicola di Gabriele Sbraghe, called Nicola da Urbino. The set was likely made as a present for Isabella d'Este, marchioness of Mantua, from her daughter and son-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Urbino. Many of the surviving pieces from the set bear stories from Ancient Roman mythology: the identification of scenes on some dishes has, however, been debated.
Based on recent research, the most convincing interpretation for this object is that it shows a scene from the story of the youth Hippolytus. Hippolytus was a devotee of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt--he was exiled by his father, Theseus, after his stepmother made false accusations against him. As he was leaving, Hippolytus was killed when his frightened horses threw him from his chariot. Diana and Paeon (also identified with Aesculapius, god of medicine) took pity on Hippolytus and brought him back to life. The image on the plate shows the goddess Diana ordering Paeon to resurrect Hippolytus. The story is told in two of the major sources for mythology used by Italian Renaissance artists and patrons: Ovid's Metamorphoses and Virgil's Aeneid. In Virgil's version of the story, Paeon is punished for reviving Hippolytus, which may explain the actions of the old man in this image; he raises his palm, apparently in resistance.
The maiolica service of which this dish is part does not seem to have an overarching program, although the imagery and quality of these pieces does reflect the sophisticated tastes and erudite interests of great patrons of Italian Renaissance art, like Isabella d'Este. The subjects identified on surviving pieces come mostly from Roman mythology, with the majority of the stories from Ovid, while some others take their subjects from the Bible or ancient history. Another piece from the service, in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, shows the beginning of the story of Hippolytus. The Victoria and Albert plate and the one in the Philadelphia Museum of Art provide a rare example of a narrative being split over two dishes within a single maiolica service.
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