Artist: Baldassare Manara (Italian, Faenza, active first half 16th century)
Date: ca. 1530–40
Medium: Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)
Dimensions: H. 4 1/8 in. (10.5 cm); Diam. 7 3/4 in. (19.7 cm)
Credit Line: Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Accession Number: 1975.1.1043a,b
Baldassare Manara was one of the principal ceramics artists active in Faenza, working in a productive and well-documented shop. These two pieces of a maiolica set, produced on the occasion of childbirth, are highly unusual for their complex classical imagery and their elaborate inscriptions. New mothers in Renaissance Italy were often presented with maiolica birth sets. Although no complete set survives, these gifts consisted of five interlocking pieces: a footed broth bowl and its cover (which doubled as a plate), a drinking cup, a saltcellar, and a lid. When assembled, these objects formed a single unit and any imagery on the interior—in this case, a series of scenes from ancient mythology—was hidden from view. The subjects may have been chosen for their symbolic meanings: Aeneas carrying his father out of burning Troy for its theme of filial piety; Pyramis and Thisbe for the power of love; and Hercules and the Nemean Lion perhaps to foretell the strength and virtues of the child just born. The first of the inscriptions—"God with his hands created you so fair that now to mortal eyes you appear more precious than any oriental gem"—must have referred to the mother. The other inscriptions do not entirely correspond to the scenes with which they have been paired, perhaps due to an error on the part of the painter.