Dish depicting a virgin and a unicorn

Date: probably ca. 1486–88

Culture: Italian, Pesaro

Medium: Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)

Dimensions: Overall (confirmed): 4 × 18 7/8 in. (10.2 × 47.9 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Pottery

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1946

Accession Number: 46.85.30

Description

This dish is one of four surviving from a set that has been called one of the most astonishing achievements of fifteenth-century Italian maiolica. It was made for Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary (r. 1458–90), and his second wife, Beatrice of Aragon (d. 1508), who were married in 1476, although it cannot be proven that the set commemorates that event. Their arms are at the top of the dish. At the center, a maiden is shown seated with a unicorn in her lap. According to legend, the wild unicorn could only be tamed by a virgin, and here the story is an allegory of feminine chastity within the context of betrothal and marriage. These dining wares were probably produced in Pesaro, in the region of Italy known as the Marches, and, interestingly, documents show that a potter from Pesaro was active in Hungary in 1488.

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