In the late sixteenth century, numerous Italian artists and craftsmen moved to Nevers, a city ruled by an Italian prince, Luigi Gonzaga of Mantua, since his marriage in 1565 to Henriette of Cleves, Duchess of Nevers. Among them was Augustin Conrade, a maiolica potter from Albissola, in Liguria, whose family went on to dominate the production of faience in Nevers until the mid-seventeenth century. From 1626 until his death in 1647, his great nephew Antoine Conrade became the head of Les Trois Mores (The Three Moors), the largest workshop in Nevers, where most of the pieces in this case were made, including two signed pieces (cats. 13, 14).
To satisfy a clientele passionate about Italian art, Antoine Conrade’s workshop continued to produce Italian-style Renaissance maiolica with istoriato and grotesque decoration until the middle of the seventeenth century (cats. 7, 8, 12). In some cases, they painted colorful scenes onto shapes and forms not used by Italian potters, as on a pair of covered jars after a traditional Chinese form (cat. 12). In other instances, as in the spectacular dish (cat. 8), they used Italian models from Urbino for the complex shape of the vessel and the grotesque decoration. Like most of the pieces made in Nevers in the early seventeenth century, this dish was until recently considered to be a great example of Italian Renaissance maiolica, although monochrome blue was mainly produced in Nevers and never in Urbino.
Monochrome blue was first developed in Savona (in the region of Liguria, Italy), but it became a Nevers specialty. Several of the pieces shown in the exhibition were influenced by the blue-and-white production of Savona, some depicting small figures dressed in Chinese costumes set in Asian-style landscapes (cat. 14, 15). A rare example of this type is the large plate with fish, birds, and other animals painted on the surface to cover as much white ground as possible without overlap, following a decorative style from Persia (cat. 13).