NICOLA DA URBINO
(b. ca. 1480, Urbino, d. ca. 1538, Urbino)
Italian ceramicist, maiolica painter. Until the 1980s, when he was identified in the Urbino archives as Nicola di Gabriele Sbraghe, the identity of the man who signed his works Nicola da Urbino remained unknown. Nicola was recorded in Urbino from 1520 as the owner of a workshop and was called maestro (master), but frustratingly little else is known about this talented maiolica master of the sixteenth century.
He was head of his own workshop but also collaborated with others. One of his finest pieces is a large signed plate (1528; Florence, Bargello) decorated with the story of St Cecilia. Four other signed pieces are in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (1521), the Louvre, Paris (c. 1525-28), the church of S Stefano, Novellara (c. 1530), and the British Museum, London (c. 1535). Several magnificent armorial services have been attributed to him on the basis of these works. The 'Correr' service (c. 1520; Venice, Museo Correr) is noted for its lyrical scenes drawn from mythology and contemporary romances and for its graceful figures and sophisticated colour harmonies.
A delicate and sophisticated rendering of figures and a varied colour palette characterized Nicola's work. Because of his great skill, he was much admired and sought after by important patrons of maiolica. Around 1525 he produced a splendid table service for Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of Mantua; later he made another one for her son Federico Gonzaga, the first duke of Mantua.
Nicola helped develop the classic style of Renaissance istoriato ware, which illustrates colourful scenes drawn from history, mythology, or the Bible. Like other artists such as Francesco Xanto Avelli, he drew on prints for inspiration, using woodcuts from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Venice, 1497) and engravings by such artists as Marcantonio Raimondi. Nicola's compositions, however, are imbued with a freshness and originality that set them apart from those of his contemporaries and followers. He is often regarded as the most gifted and inventive of the 16th-century istoriato artists and was largely responsible for establishing what is thought of as the classic style of Renaissance maiolica.
His work helped to establish Urbino as one of the most important areas for maiolica production in the sixteenth century.