Old plate found on English wall brings $880K

1540 Italian maiolica plate

A glazed plate that had sat in a make-shift frame hidden behind a door in an English cottage for years was recently discovered to be worth far more than its owner knew.

The 16.5 inch Italian maiolica plate was “uncovered” by an auctioneer who been asked to assess some items in the unidentified woman’s home in Dorset, England.

Only about two inches of it were visible when appraiser Richard Bromell caught a glimpse of the plate behind a door.

“It had been on the wall for a number of years and you couldn’t really see it but it was hugely exciting …” he told the BBC.

When put up for sale by Charterhouse Auctioneers on Feb. 14, the plate brought $880,000, despite having a small chip.

Maiolica is Italian-style tin-glazed pottery dating from the Renaissance. It is decorated in bright colors and often depicts historical and legendary scenes.

The piece illustrates the story of King Herod and the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. It was decorated after a print by German printmaker Hans Sebald Beham, according to the BBC.

Close up of maiolica plate recently found in Dorset, England, showing Salome with the head of St. John the Baptist.

Close up of maiolica plate recently found in Dorset, England, showing Salome with the head of St. John the Baptist.

It’s the condition and quality of the painting that drove the price up, according to The History Blog.

“The dish is nearly 500 years old, but the colors are still brilliant and the finish glossy,” it added. “The only damage was a repaired chip about 1.4 inches wide on the bottom of the charger. It’s barely noticeable and doesn’t overlap with any of the figures, just with the yellow border and a green scribble of grass.”

Bromell said when he took note of the plate he expected it to be a 19th century copy. But research showed it was made in Urbino, Italy, around 1540.

The plate was purchased by London jewelry firm  S.J. Phillips Ltd.

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9 thoughts on “Old plate found on English wall brings $880K

  1. 460 years old with a mystery?

    In the top third of the plate there is a river, a rowing ferry canoe and a human figure to its left. Is that character depicted with a skull for a head?

    Notice the tall man in the golden cape, to the left of the ‘skull’ figure. What is going on with the pig to the left of the golden caped figure?

    • It looks like there may be more than one story taking place in the image.

      My first thought when you described the canoe being rowed across the river was Charron ferrying the dead across the river Styx. I realize that that comes from Greek mythology, but I also believe Dante used it in his Divine Comedy.

  2. It’s 1540 AD; Here’s a plate, assume multiple copies of similar design, of a scene: “Close up of maiolica plate recently found in Dorset, England, showing Salome with the head of St. John the Baptist.”

    “It was decorated after a print by German printmaker Hans Sebald Beham”

    The fascinating part is that each part of the plate shows part of the story, each symbol and narrative exposition is presented. A mini-series of icons and artistry frozen in a glassy encasement, by hand, in 1540. Who translates plates anymore?

    fyi:
    “Urbino is a picturesque Renaissance hill town and the cultural gem of the Marche region of central Italy. Although Urbino was a Roman and medieval city, its peak came during the 15th century when Duke Federico da Montefeltro established one of Europe’s most illustrious courts. Its impressive Ducal Palace houses one of the most important collections of Renaissance paintings in Italy.”

    http://urbinoitaly.com/city/

  3. I wonder if anyone out there spat their weetbix across the breakfast table after reading this in the news, gasping out “My nan had a plate just like that and when she died we chucked the old thing out!”

    • Probably a whole lot more people than actually had such a plate. I’m sure quite a few people who had some cheap 1950s knock-off from a tourist trap immediately conned themselves into believing that they, too, once had a similar Renaissance work of art. Alas, if only they’d held on to it, forgetting, of course, that the paint faded within a couple of years and the enamel coating was peeling by the time they tossed it.

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