The large dish with the scene of The Rape of Helen was part of the ceremonial service of Giovanni Francesco II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, and his wife Isabella d'Este known for her patronage of artists. At the bottom of the dish there are two putti holding a shield with the coat of arms of the Dukes of Mantua, and below there is d'Este's motto written on a ribbon: Neither Hope, nor Fear. The coat of arms is separated from the border by a ring of the most delicate lacy ornament performed in bianco sopra bianco (white on white) decoration style. The border is decorated with a narrative multi-figure painting called istoriato (story) made after an engraving after Raphael's composition The Rape of Helen. In Greek mythology Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, was proclaimed to be the most beautiful of all mortal women. The Troyan prince Paris, who fell in love with Helen, abducted her and took her to Troy by sea. Menelaus summoned all the Greek kings and heroes and went to Troy to bring his wife back and to revenge for her abduction. Thus, the Trojan War began. The painting depicts Paris dragging the struggling Helen to his ship. On the shore, against the background of an antique building and blue rocks, is a battle of the Greeks with the Trojans. In the harbour there are Trojan ships coming to the shore. The dish is painted by the most prominent master of Italian majolica of the first third of the 16th century Nicola da Urbino. Starting from the early 16th century majolica began to play a great role in the decoration of Italian houses. Majolica services were considered to be luxury items and were displayed alongside with silverware in staterooms in cupboards with open shelves called credenza. Isabella d'Este used this service at her country villa.
Dish 'The Rape of Helen'
Place of creation:
painting over opaque white tin glaze
diam. 52 cm
Entered the Hermitage in 1920; formerly in the M.P. Botkin collection