by Scarlett Ariosto


In Bertolami Fine Art's antique ceramics auction curious and rare objects of ancient design often linked to extraordinary stories.

Among the highlights is a small sculpture that comes out of the workshop of that Giovanni Santi, an excellent and learned painter from Urbino who was crushed by the fame of an overly cumbersome son, the immense Raphael.


Ceramics and majolica produced, especially in Italy, from the 14th to the 18th century have long been the object of an elite international collectorate willing to spend very high sums to secure objects considered to be among the most refined expressions of European culture.

Today, due to the epochal change in taste that has put many areas of the antique art market in crisis, that cultured collecting niche that is unappealing to the younger generation has become even narrower. "The result," explains Joseph Bertolami, founder and sole director of Bertolami Fine Art, is that prices have never been so advantageous. Pieces that until twenty years ago reached very high quotations can be acquired at a value for money that has never been so favorable for the buyer, a market conjuncture of which it would be a shame not to take advantage."


Indeed, the catalog of the auction European Majolica and Ceramics from the 16th to the 18th century, scheduled from Bertolami Fine Art the 28th of October 2022, reveals a surprising scenario: cultured, yet of immediate appeal, compatible with the most modern decorating solutions and, what doesn't hurt, affordable for many purses.

"In composing the catalog for this sale - speaking is Giuliana Gardelli, head of the Department of Ceramics and Antique Porcelain at the auction house of Palazzo Caetani Lovatelli - we omitted the inclusion of the most courtly and expensive pieces, the guiding criterion was rather to propose a collection of objects "speaking" in their ability to evoke our extraordinary cultural roots, but also to tell, through a figurative language in constant pursuit of beauty, curious and light stories."


In Bertolami Fine Art's auction, the civilization of beauty is also expressed through objects of common use, such as the majolica used by apothecaries to hold various pharmaceutical forms, a type of production represented in the catalog by specimens from various regions of Italy with particular attention to those from the southern area.

Auction highlights and curiosities

Workshop of Giovanni Santi, 15th-16th century
Small plaster head of a child
Lot 35
Estimate 8,000/10,000 euros

A small plaster cast depicting the head of a chubby little boy marked in the catalog by lot number 35 could be evidence for a bronze or marble. A delightful work coming out of the workshop of that John Santi, excellent and learned painter of Urbino crushed by the fame of an overly cumbersome son: the immense Raphael.

Marche or Romagna late 15th century
Lot 48
Estimate 5,000/6,000 euros

It comes from a pharmacy the oldest piece among those placed in the auction: an albarello produced in the late 15th century in the Marche or Romagna area characterized by a typical sapphire ornament, the dark blue decoration on a white background that, like the sapphire, takes its name from the Arabic language.

Florence, last decades 16th century
Majolica riser
Lot 40
Estimate 1,000/1,200 euros

Also harking back to fruitful encounters between Arab and European cultures is the polychrome majolica riser with dense floral decoration at the center of which a bird stands out, just as in the marble commodes produced in Florence beginning in the 1500s, the era of Grand Duke Cosimo I dei Medici. And not coincidentally produced in Florence in the last decades of that century is this beautiful majolica that tells a little-known chapter in a well-known page of botanical history. The well-known story is that of the introduction of the tulip to Europe by Ferdinand I's ambassador to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent, who sent some bulbs to the botanist Carolus Clusius, in charge of the Dutch royal gardens. The story revealed by the plate's floral decorations, a triumph of tulips, is that the ambassador donated bulbs of that exceptionally beautiful flower not only to the Dutch court, but also to the Medici court, the place where every form of beauty, of art or nature, was sought after and appreciated.

Rome or Naples 18th century
Large vase for herbal preparations with herb bowl
Lot 26
Estimate 1,800/2,000 euros

Also telling a story (and what a story!) is the white majolica set with delicate decorations of campanulas and daisies consisting of a large lidded vase and an accessory bowl. The function of the mysterious service was the preparation of infusions, indeed the medicinal potion par excellence, the legendary teriaca . A panacea for all ills, an antidote against all poisons, teriaca has had a very long circulation: its origins go back to the Greco-Roman world (it was perhaps introduced by Andromachus, Nero's physician, but it may be even older) and was convincingly used until the threshold of the 1900s. We do not know which of the many teriaca recipes handed down through the centuries was made from this beautiful eighteenth-century tisaniera from the Roman or Neapolitan area, but we like to think in steeping in the graceful serving bowl a fragrant concoction of some of its best-known ingredients: rose, iris, cinnamon, myrrh, ginger, saffron, black pepper, valerian, old wine, honey, a pinch of opium and, of course, the key ingredient, the meat of vipers caught, possibly in the Euganean Hills, between July and August.

Italy or France, 18th century
Pair of wig holders
Lot 2
Estimate 1,000/1,200 euros

Very rare pair of eighteenth-century wig holders made of blue and white ceramic. One of the curiosities of the auction.

Pesaro, late 17th century - early 18th century
Ovoid bonbons holder with lid
Lot 10
Estimate 1,500/1,800 euros

Also rare is the egg-shaped bonbons box made by a Pesaro workshop in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Fine late grotesque decoration partially in relief.

Francis Anthony Xavier Grue
(Castelli 1686-1746)
Three apothecary albarellos:
Lot 79
Estimate 1,000/1,500 euros

Lot 80
Estimate 1,500/2,000 euros

Lot 81
Estimate 1,000/1,500 euros

They are with certainty attributable to Francis Anthony Xavier Grue three apothecary albarellos with depictions of St. Bruno (lots 79 and 81) and St. Stephen (lot 80). The Grue family, of which Francesco Antonio was a leading exponent, signed one of the finest pages of ceramics in Castelli, the small town in Abruzzo that, between the 1500s and 1700s, took a leading role in the history of Italian majolica.




October 28, 2022 at 3:00 p.m.

Lots visible by appointment  

Caetani Lovatelli Palace

Piazza Lovatelli, 1 - Rome

Info and appointments for viewing lots:

Tel. +39 06 32609795 - 06 3218464


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