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Montelupo fiorentino manufacturing

Montelupo fiorentino last quarter of the XVIth Century

Material: Baked on high flame and glazed terracotta

Size: 47 x 36 cm

review by gherardo turchi

Ancient and rare coat of arms in polychrome majolica from the renowned workshops of Montelupo Fiorentino, one of the main Renaissance majolica production centers in Italy. The custom of placing ceramic coats of arms on churches and palaces dates back to relatively ancient times in Tuscany, but no specific research was ever devoted to this subject, but for some studies relating to one or another particularly relevant specimen, connected with the activity of Della Robbia well-known workshops.

Research carried out by the Montelupo Museum in recent years on public buildings only, i.e. reserved for the seats of the various courts of the Florentine state, showed however that in this particular manufacturing channels of different places of origin are highlighted, one of which leads to the Montelupo workshops.

The territorial distribution of the majolica coat of arms on this type of building shows an evident concentration of the same in the territory located west of Florence and in the Valdelsa, marking its greatest presence in the case of the Vicarial palace of Certaldo, which was the superior court of reference of the podesteriaoffice of the podestà – in Montelupo.

The two public buildings of Montelupo and Lastra a Signa, parts of the same civil district, then look full of these coats of arms, despite in the first case the construction of a faux-medieval small loggia on the facade led to the destruction of various examples, some of which were then salvaged in fragments inside the vaults of the building, where they had been thrown following the afore-mentioned works.

Given that this production of coats of arms extends considerably over time, as evidenced in the first document of the Vicarial palace of Vicopisano dating back to 1475, it should be no surprise that it has a multiplicity of supports, which followed the evolution of contemporary heraldry This specimen, belonging to the second half of the sixteenth century, can no doubt be assigned to the Montelupo production, and we can notice more precisely the resemblance to some Valdarno workshops activity of the same period.

Moreover, already in the late fifteenth century, the Montelupo workshops had given rise to a similar production, of which some good quality examples can be found in Montelupo itself. The large quantity of “volute” coats of arms, such as this one, which from the second half of the sixteenth century goes to most of the following century, is clearly from a Valdarno ancestry.

This later production is well documented by the specimens inserted in the masonry of the Lastra a Signa court, and is also clearly traceable in documents kept in foreign museums, as in the specimen belonging to the Sèvres Museum of Ceramics. Specifically, this coat of arms was ordered from the Montelupo workshops by the ancient and noble Roman family of the Lanzalotti, as inferred from the emblem representation, made of a white band passing through two flowers.

The Jerusalem cross in the upper part of the oval points out that the members of the family belong to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, i.e. an order of a Catholic nature; it had the shape of a public association of faithful Catholics and was of papal sub-collation, having a canonical and civil juridical personality. The Jerusalem cross, also known as the quintuple cross, or the cross of Godfrey of Bouillon is an empowered cross, in which each arm of the cross ends in a tau, accompanied by smaller crosses at each corner formed by the arms of the cross itself. The pair of lilies that appear on the coat of arms highlights the royalty of the family.

 The lily, usually classified among the natural figures, is one of the most popular heraldic figures, appearing actually in various noble and civil coats of arms. Among the Marian symbols par excellence, starting from the Middle Ages it represented the emblem of royalty, or as in this case of nobility, and of purity, as well as having the symbolic meanings of “Praise God” and trust in Divine Providence. We should also remember that in ancient times colors had a specific symbolic value: gold was a representation of faith, a color used in this work precisely for the representation of the lilies themselves. The coat of arms is surmounted by a helmet, which was often used as iconography to represent the war commitment supported by the family to which the coat of arms pertained. Finally, the colors of the coat of arms are precisely those typical of Montelupo majolica, i.e. bright and luminous colors such as yellow-gold, cobalt blue, green, and manganese brown. This specimen is in quite good conservative condition.

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