Ornamental Plate with Battle Scene

Bottega di Orazio Fontana

Urbino, Sixteenth century


Polychrome maiolica istoriato, 46 x 6.2cm

Given its size and characteristics, this plate comes under the category of luxurious, ornamental banquet crockery. In the middle the main scene unfolds: a battle between warriors takes place in a fenced-off area beyond which an urban space is partially visible with houses, towers and a spiral column that references the Roman columns of Trajan and Antonius Pius. Here more warriors in helmets and cuirasses line up: some are intently  watching the action whilst others move around as if ready to step in; meanwhile a female figure rises above the crowd, gesturing imploringly. Finely detailed Raphaelesque decorations of alternating musical instruments and tiny gems separate the middle of the plate from the brim ornamented with winged putti and the inscription: ‘VRBINO’.

The subject of the plate has been interpreted in various ways. Venturi defined it as a battle of gladiators in Rome whilst others claimed it was a battle between Greeks and Trojans in the presence of Helen. In the latter case, the spiral column could be a reference to the continuity of Troy in Rome, as the ancestors of the Trojan prince Aeneas would go on to found the Eternal City.