Hispano-Moresque Deep Dish
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Spanish, Valencia, mid-1400s
Tin-glazed earthenware with copper luster
Diam.: 19 1/2 in.

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The radiating leaf, flower, and tendril decoration of this dish is characteristic of Valencian pottery, as is the golden-brown luster. Artisans created the iridescent luster surface by firing metal oxides onto ceramic objects in a special "reduction" firing, in which the kiln was starved of oxygen. Renaissance patrons prized lustered ceramics not only for their shimmering surfaces but also for their seeming transformation of base materials into gold--the dream of alchemists since the Middle Ages.

The center of this dish is inscribed with the monogram IHS for Iesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus the Savior of Men), the monogram that Saint Bernard of Siena held up for veneration at the end of his sermons. The dish may have been used as a serving trencher at a table or, given its large size, elaborate decoration, and excellent condition, for display on a sideboard.