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The tri-lobed basin sold by Mehlis in Plauen, eastern Germany, on August 22, was catalogued as ‘probably from the workshop of Orazio Fontana (1510-71)’.

Filled with scented water, basins of this type were offered to dining guests for washing their hands between the courses of a meal.

However, these shallow and splendidly painted examples were probably used for display.

A similar-shaped dish decorated with Old Testament scenes dated to 1565-75 is in the British Museum collection.

Another in the J Paul Getty Museum is decorated with the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Three dealers on the phone, two from the UK and one from France, competed up to €70,000. The auction’s pace then slowed to €1000 increments until it was knocked down at €110,000/£100,000 (plus 23% buyer’s premium). A French dealer was victorious.

Fontana came from an established family of potters in Urbino. He worked with his father, master potter Guido Durantino, for most of his career but left in 1565 to set up his own workshop nearby.

He is credited for introducing the istoriato ‘painted with stories’ style to Renaissance maiolica – the celebrated tin-glazed pottery featuring historical and mythical scenes.


The central circular vignette of the 18in (46cm) dish that sold at Mehlis in Plauen, Germany, for €110,000 (£100,000).

The front of the 18in (46cm) dish features three shell-shaped reserves of satyrs, sea monsters and animals with this theme continuing around its border. The central circular vignette is a scene from the subjugation of the Helvetii by Julius Caesar. The reverse is also wholly decorated with three heart-shaped designs encircling pairs of swans. It has some restoration.

Mehlis’ Susanne Wilde said the consignor was a southern German collector who inherited the dish.

She added “We were hoping for €30,000-40,000 but the eventual price was a surprise to us. The consignor knew it was valuable but he did not expect this. He is very happy.”