These two busts, monumental in both their size and artistry, come from the renowned Italian majolica workshop of the famed Angelo Minghetti. Depicted are the Renaissance political and cultural leaders Marquess and Marchioness of Mantua, Francesco II Gonzaga and Isabella d'Este. The portraits achieve remarkable naturalism, and each bust displays elaborate hand-painted decoration. Nineteenth-century majolica is coveted for its intricate motifs and deep saturation of color, both qualities that distinguish these busts.
Francesco II Gonzaga and his wife Isabella d'Este were powerful political leaders in the Northern Italian city of Mantua in the 15th century, and Isabella was an important humanitarian and patron of the arts. When her husband was captured as a prisoner of war in 1509, she served as regent of Mantua during his absence and became a successful military leader and diplomat. Known as the “First Lady of the Renaissance,” she was well-educated and fashionable, and she supported some of the most notable artists of the era, including da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Giorgione and many more. Some scholars have even speculated that she could be the sitter for the Mona Lisa.
Angelo Minghetti studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna before founding his own ceramic workshop in Bologna in 1858, where he endeavored to recapture the art of 15th and 16th-century Italian majolica, particularly the Urbino ware. He is best known for his elaborately decorated majolica busts depicting Renaissance figures like the present pair. He found inspiration in the great terracotta sculptors of the Renaissance, such as Luca della Robbia and his colorful tin-glazed earthenware.
Beginning in 1869, Minghetti began exhibiting at the grand Universal Exhibitions of the late 19th century, including the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair, the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 and the 1883 National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Rome, among others. He was awarded several medals at these exhibitions, and his works were commended for their execution and decoration, which very closely resembled authentic Renaissance earthenware pieces. Today, the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) holds in its collection several majolica busts by Minghetti, and a majolica plaque by Minghetti resides in Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum.
Each 27 1/4" wide x 13 1/2" deep x 38 1/8" high