This splendid plate formed part of one of the largest majolica services ever made, commissioned by Piero Maria Pucci (1467–1547) of Florence, whose arms are visible at the center. Highly distinguished in the first half of the sixteenth century, Pucci family members served under the Medici popes Leo X (r. 1513-21) and Clement VII (r. 1523-34). Thirty-seven pieces from the maiolica service survive (including four in the Lehman Collection: see also 1975.1.1131; 1975.1.1134; 1975.1.1137), all painted in Urbino by the celebrated maiolica painter Francesco Xanto Avelli da Rovigo in 1532 and 1533. Some pieces were sent to Gubbio to be completed with luster decoration under Xanto’s direction. The subject depicted here is the mythological story of Phaeton, a mortal youth, who fell to his death from the celestial chariot of his father, the sun-god Phoebus. This plate shows the aftermath, as Phaeton’s loved ones are literally transformed by their grief: at right, his sisters change into trees, and at left, his friend Cygnus becomes a swan. The figure of Cygnus, like several appearing in Xanto’s imagery, was adapted from a print source.
Inscription: [in blue under the foot] 1532 / in cigno e, i olmi / de Clymene i figli / Nel.II.L:d Ouidio Met: (into a swan and Clymene's daughters changed into elms. From Book 2 of Ovid's Metamorphoses) / fra:Xato A / da Rouigo, i / Vrbino
Albert Gérard, Paris (sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 18-23, 1900, lot 233, ill.); Alfred Israel Pringsheim, Munich, later Zurich (1850-1941); sale*, Sotheby's, London, July 19, 1939, lot 295, 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.