Birth Bowl (Ciottola puerperile)
Date: c. 1575
Medium: Polychrome tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica)
Dimensions: Height: 2 3/8 in. (6 cm) Diameter of rim: 8-1/2 in. (21.6 cm)
Credit: Purchase, The Cochrane-Woods Collection
Accession No.: 1979.42
On view in the Edward A. Maser Gallery for Art Before 1900.
Birth trays and bowls were commonly used in Renaissance Italy to carry food and gifts to new mothers during their confinement, and to hold items within easy reach at the bedside. During the mid-sixteenth century, ceramic bowls superseded wooden ones, as maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware) production flourished in central and northern Italy. The interior of this bowl features two women bathing a newborn while a cupid observes the scene; on the underside another cupid holds a staff. Encircling the central figures are white-ground grotteschi, or ornamental grotesques, that were a particular specialty of the Fontana workshop and hugely popular on Urbino maiolica of this period. Despite the primary utilitarian function of birth bowls, they were also prized for their aesthetic and sentimental value, as suggested by the practices of displaying them on a wall after the ritual of childbirth and passing them down through the generations. Resource: Ingrid D. Rowland, The Place of the Antique in Early Modern Europe, Chicago: The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, 1999, p. 41.