Throwback Thursdays Art – w/ Update!

Throwback Thursdays Art – w/ Update!

Every Thursday, as part of my personal “enriched environment” initiative, I post a piece of art, usually from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which recently released online some 400,000 high-resolution images of its collection.  All artwork will show a sun (or sunlight) somewhere. 

I won’t name the piece or the artist, but instead invite you to study the art and post a comment addressing one or more of these questions:

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

If you have another idea, run with it.

Special Update!  The New York Times website does this same exercise every Monday with a news photo that is uncaptioned and contains no text (click!).  The Times asks viewers the same three questions:

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

However, at the end of the week, the Times posts the background information on the picture.  So, I’ve decided to do the same.  I’ll still post an unlabeled piece of art on Thursday.  But return on Sunday (for the Sunny Sundays post!) and you’ll find an update on the artwork here.

Note:  To embiggen the image, click on it! 

Plate (tagliere)

Artist:  Francesco Xanto Avelli da Rovigo (Italian, Rovigo ca.1487–1542)

Date:  1539

Medium:  Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)

Dimensions:  Diameter: 11 11/16 in. (29.7cm)

Classification:  Ceramics-Pottery

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 950

Catalogue Entry

Xanto was a highly distinguished painter of Italian Renaissance maiolica, a refined tin-glazed ceramic. He worked in Urbino, a thriving center for the production of maiolica during its golden age – the first half of the sixteenth century. Xanto was a prolific artist, about whom we have an unusual amount of information due in part to his penchant for inscribing his pieces with his name, the date, and their place of production from 1530 to 1542. Xanto is also a fascinating figure in the context of Renaissance culture for his roles as a courtier and poet, who composed sonnets in honor of Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino.

Like other contemporary maiolica painters, Xanto decorated his wares with vibrantly colored narrative scenes (known as istoriato or “story-painting”) and drew from numerous visual and literary sources. These subjects, often mythological, were derived from contemporary and classical literature. His dynamic figures and compositional arrangements were inspired by the engravings of the school of Raphael.

Painted with brilliant hues of yellow, orange, green, and blue, this plate was signed and dated by Xanto in 1539. It portrays Metabus’ rescue of Camilla, a scene from Virgil’s Aeneid (11.532-66), that Xanto depicted on several other maiolica pieces. Metabus, King of the Volscians, clad in armor at the left, has fled from his enemies with his infant daughter, Camilla, and reached the banks of the Amasenus River. To ensure Camilla’s safe transport across the treacherous waters, Metabus entrusts her to the goddess Diana, and ties her to a spear, which he hurls with great force to the opposite shore, where Diana awaits with three attendants. A sculpturesque river god reclines in the water below and two additional male figures, whose identities are unknown, appear at the left. Xanto drew inspiration for all of the figures from various engravings, especially those of the prolific early sixteenth-century printmaker Marcantonio Raimondi. The winding Amasenus is flanked by craggy banks in the foreground and recedes into a distant vista of mountains, villages, and a luminous sunset. With Camilla suspended above, the river serves as the focal point of the composition and the dramatic action of the episode.


About The Author: Bruce


  1. Donna

    What is the purpose of this plate? Is it for daily household use, or just something to bring out when you have guests over for dinner? I can’t imagine eating food off this plate, or even hors d’oeuvres, because the scene is so busy and elicits so many reactions. Why does the man in the center, standing on the bank of the left, have a child strapped to a lance which he’s holding out over the stream? Why are many of the men naked, but the women clothed? Why is one of the women carrying a musical instrument – a kind of harp? And why does the sun look like a crudely-drawn eyeball with fabulous lashes?
    I will say this: it’s a lot of colors and a lot of details to mull over.

  2. Amy

    Very colorful, very busy. Looks like a lot of stories happening at once. I like it.

  3. Chris Tempe

    The sun IS like a golden eye, and it’s rendered in a more childish manner than the rest of the art on this plate. The baby-on-a-spear is smack dab in the middle of the plate – or is it a bowl? It seems that since the center of the bowl/plate has indentations, you’re supposed to put a tea cup on it as if it’s a saucer, or some soup. It’s really remarkable all that’s going on here.

    FOr example, the two guys on the left: Why does the brown-haired one have his hand on the face and the top of the head of the red-headed one? ANd why does the other naked man, in the lower right, have what appears to be blue hair? And what are the three lines of sticks sticking up out of the brook? Are they holding up nets that are supposed to catch fish?

    All in all, this is very colorful, very pretty, and I’m sure there’s a story about it that’s been lost to the ages.

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