The Martyrdom of St Cecilia

Casa Pirota workshop
Faenza (Italy), c. 1525
Majolica
Inscription, first column on the left: RA-VR-IN-ME
Diam. 25.4 cm
Bequest of Alexandrine Grandjean, Grandjean collection, 1923
Inv. GR 166
© Les Arts Décoratifs

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Cecilia is a young Roman woman thought to have lived in the second or third century. Although raised as a Christian, she was forced to marry a pagan named Valerian. On their wedding night, Cecilia persuaded her new husband to respect her vow of chastity. She told Valerian that she was protected by an angel, and he agreed to her request on the condition that he be granted a sight of her guardian. The angel came down to them and placed crowns of roses and lilies on their heads (St Cecilia’s symbols include flowers as well as string instruments). Valerian and his brother Tiburtius converted to Christianity and asked to be baptized, but they were both beheaded on the orders of the Roman governor. The scene on this plate from Faenza shows their heads being held up in front of Cecilia, who is being burned alive in a caldron of boiling oil, while the angel holding the crown of flowers flies above her. Jupiter sits on his throne behind the beheaded figures; on the left, Cecilia’s accusers point at her. The underside of the plate is decorated with stylized peacock feathers. The engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi that served as a model for this plate was itself inspired by a fresco executed by Raphael and his pupils for the chapel of the Villa Magliana, a papal retreat outside Rome. As this fresco representing the martyrdom of St Cecilia (commissioned by Pope Leo X) was executed around 1517-1520, and the engraving inspired by Raphael’s modello (preparatory study) was produced around 1520-1525, the year 1525 is the earlist possible date (“terminus a quo”) for the production of this plate. It was not intended to hold food, but to be presented as a gift for a special occasion. By 1525, the Casa Pirota workshop had already belonged for some time to the brothers Matteo, Gian Lorenzo and Gian Francesco Paterni, sons of the late Pirotto Paterni, after whom the workshop (bottega) was named. Two majolicas authenticated by the inscription “fato in Faenza in caxa Pirota” (one of which is now in the Musée de Sèvres, the other in the Museum of Bologna) made it possible to group together a large number of unauthenticated works, including the one in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, stylistically very similar to the one in the Musée de Sèvres.

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