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Design for a Majolica Plate [The Rape of Helen (?)]
Franco, Battista
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Franco, Battista

Venice, 1510 - Venice, 1561

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Design for a Majolica Plate [The Rape of Helen (?)]

Mid-XVIcentury. Pencil, Pencil ground, Grey-brown ink on yellow paper.
Not on display

According to Vasari, Guidobaldo II, Duke of Urbino, commissioned Franco to prepare designs for maiolica following his failed attempt to decorate the vault of the choir of Urbino cathedral with a large-scale fresco of the Coronation of the Virgin. The Duke, probably rightly, concluded that Franco´s meticulous, yet elegant style was better suited to work on a smaller scale. The artist was consequently asked to furnish designs for "coloro the lavorano eccellentemente vasi di terra a Castel Durante, i quail si erano molti serviti delle stanspe di Raffaello da Urbino e di quelle di altri valent´uomini" (those who work so well in pottery vases at Castel Durante, who so often used the prints of Raphael of Urbino and others [for their imitations)]. Franco´s activity as a designer for maiolica may be dated between the summer of 1546, when his decoration in the cathedral was almost complete, and c. 1550, when he seems to have returned to Rome. Among the dinner services decorated to Franco´s designs,Vasari mentioned one dispatched to the duke´s brother-in-law, Cardinal Farnese, and "una doppia credenza" sent to the emperor.

The present drawing appears to be connected with a composition of the Rape of Helen for the decoration of one such maiolica plate from the set commissioned by Guidobaldo II. A surviving example, from the workshop of Orazio Fontana (c. 1510-1576), is preserved at Urbino (Clifford and Mallet, 1976, fig. 43). In the finished maiolica design, the composition is viewed from out to sea, with Paris and Helen in the center and Greek soldiers pursuing them from a palace behind and with two Trojan boats moored to either side of the shore.

At first there seems little or no correspondence between the Prado drawing and the design of the maiolica plate of the Rape of Helen -except for the palace structure in the middle of the background. Closer inspection of the drawing, however, shows two figures in front of the paired columns of the palace, in the middle distance, which the artist has cancelled out with an impetuous scribble, as if dissatisfied with his rendering. From the position of these two figures, as compared with the design of the Rape of Helen plate, they could well have been intended as the Trojan Paris carrying the struggling Helen from the palace of her absent husband, Menelaus -the main protagonists in the design. If this is so, Franco´s rejection of his solution for these figures here would seem amply justified, for they do not indeed have sufficient prominence in the overall scheme. In a drawing of a Soldier Seizing a Fleeing Woman in His Arms: Study]?[ for a "Rape of Helen" in the Faculdade das Belas-Artes, Oporto, the artist seems to have explored in considerable detail the poses of these same two figures (inv. no. 99.1.1178 [90/16]; Cambridge, Lisbon and elsewhere, 2000-2001, no. 11). Nevertheless, he did not adopt the solution for them explored in the Oporto drawing in his final design for the corresponding plate.

The figures on the left of the composition of the Prado drawing appear to be carrying booty, while the man crouching in the lower right appears to be untying a boat. Their action too is consistent with the Trojan companions of Paris making off with spoils (Text drawn from Turner, N.: From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International-Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p. 90).

Technical data

Inventory number
Franco, Battista
Design for a Majolica Plate [The Rape of Helen (?)]
Mid-XVI century
Pencil; Pencil ground; Grey-brown ink
Yellow paper
Height: 238 mm; Width: 213 mm
Bequest of Pedro Fernández Durán y Bernaldo de Quirós, 1931

Bibliography +

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de dibujos. Dibujos italianos del siglo XVI (por Nicholas Turner, con la colaboración de José Manuel Matilla), V, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2004, pp. 90, 301.

Turner, Nicholas, From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International, Chicago, 2008, pp. 90,301.

Other inventories +

Inv. Legado Pedro Fernández Durán, 1931. Núm. 2020.

Exhibitions +

De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci. Un siglo de Dibujos Italianos en el Museo del Prado
25.10.2008 - 26.07.2009

Un siglo de dibujos italianos en el Museo del Prado. De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci
23.11.2004 - 13.02.2005

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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