Basin with Deucalion and Pyrrha
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Orazio Fontana or his workshop
Italian, Urbino, 1565 - 1571
Tin-glazed earthenware
2 1/2 x 18 1/4 in.

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Filled with scented water, basins of this type were offered to dining guests for washing their hands between the courses of a meal. This shallow and splendidly painted example, however, was probably used for display.

The central scene tells the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha from Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to the legend, this husband and wife renewed the human race after a devastating flood by casting stones behind them. The stones assumed human form when they struck the earth.

Orazio Fontana developed a new type of maiolica decoration inspired by Raphael's frescoed rooms in the Vatican, which in turn were inspired by ancient Roman wall paintings. Known as grotesque motifs, these elegant and fantastic embellishments began to cover increasingly large areas of his work until they dominated the decoration, as on this basin.