Armorial Plate (tondino): The story of King Midas

Artist: Nicola da Urbino (Italian, active by 1520–died ?1537/38 Urbino)

Date: ca. 1520–25

Medium: Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)

Dimensions: Diam. 10 13/16 in. (27.5 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Pottery

Credit Line: Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

Accession Number: 1975.1.1019

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 950
In Renaissance Italy, fine maiolica was often associated with the relaxed yet elegant atmosphere of the country estate, where hospitality was generally overseen by women. This plate belongs to a service commissioned by Eleonora Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino, as a gift for her mother, Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua. On all the known pieces, Isabella's arms are joined with those of her husband, Gianfrancesco Gonzaga. The arms are frequently accompanied by mottoes and heraldic or personal badges belonging to Isabella or her husband. Twenty-one pieces of the service survive, all decorated by the greatest maiolica painter of the sixteenth century, Nicola da Urbino. The center of this dish shows Isabella's coat of arms surrounded by three of her personal emblems: a musical scroll, a candelabrum with one lit candle, and a bunch of lottery tickets. On the rim is a portrayal of the musical contest between Apollo and Pan judged by King Midas, a subject recounted in Ovid's "Metamorphoses." The subtle coloring and delicate execution of the expansive landscape setting reveal the artist's consummate skill. Another piece from this service is also in the Robert Lehman Collection.
Isabella d'Este, marchioness of Mantua; Frédéric Spitzer, Paris; Spitzer sale, 1893, lot 1705, ill.; Alfred Israel Pringsheim, Munich, later Zurich (1850-1941); sale*, Sotheby's, London, June 8, 1939, lot 190, ill.; [Julius Goldschmidt, London, for Lehman]; acquired by Robert Lehman through Goldschmidt Galleries, New York, 1939. *Alfred Pringsheim was a German Jewish collector. During Kristallnacht, in November 1938, the SS seized Pringsheim’s majolica collection from his home in Munich. It was stored in the annex to the Bayerishches National Museum, Munich. In March 1939, the German Ministry of Trade authorized export of Pringsheim's majolica collection to London for auction at Sotheby's, provided that 80% of the proceeds up to £ 20,000 and 70% of the remainder be paid to the German Gold Discount Bank in foreign currency. Pringsheim was to receive the remaining proceeds. In exchange, Pringsheim and his wife were allowed to emigrate to Switzerland. See Timothy Wilson, "Alfred Pringsheim and his Collection of Italian Maiolica," in Otto von Falke, Die Majolikasammlung Alfred Pringsheim, augmented reprint with articles by Tjark Hausman, Carmen Ravanelli-Guidotti and Timothy Wilson, Ferrara 1994, vol. 3, pp. 85-87. After the war, the Pringsheim heirs received restitution of the sale proceeds paid to the Reichsbank pursuant to a settlement agreement with the German government. Minutes of a closed session of the Reparation Claims Office I for Upper Bavaria, Munich, March 11, 1955.