Plate with the Abduction of Helen
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Francesco Xanto Avelli
Italian, Urbino, 1534
Tin-glazed earthenware
H: 2 1/2 x Diam.: 18 1/8 in.

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Francesco Xanto Avelli painted the entire surface of this large plate with a scene of the abduction of Helen by the Trojans. It shows the moment when Helen, the beautiful daughter of Zeus, is being forced into a boat by the Trojans. Her kidnapping caused a war between the Greeks and the men of Troy.

Xanto copied the scene from a popular engraving of Helen's abduction. Beginning in the mid-1400s, prints and engravings were widely available and were frequently adapted by artists to fit the circular shapes of ceramics. Xanto probably transferred the image by pricking the print with small holes, placing the cartoon against the ceramic surface, and then rubbing a dark powder on it, which would copy the lines of the image onto the plate when it passed through the holes.

The back of the plate is inscribed in blue with the date, the artist's signature, and a verse describing the mythological scene on the front.