Nicola da Urbino maiolica dish – £1.04m at Lyon & Turnbull.

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The result is believed to be a record for Italian maiolica. The dish is an early example by the 16th century artist Nicola di Gabriele Sbraghe (or Sbraga), known as Nicola da Urbino (c.1480-1538), who is acknowledged as the master of the ‘istoriato’ style of maiolica decoration and described as the Raphael of maiolica painting.

It is rare for this early period of his production to come to market. After significant phone and online interest, two phone bidders battled from the £500,000 mark to the £1.04m hammer price against an estimate of £80,000-120,000 at L&T. The buyer will pay £1.26m including premium, surpassing the previous record, believed to be the premium-inclusive €1.185m (£1.05m) set at Christie’s Paris on December 17, 2009, for a c.1525 armorial dish from the workshop of Nicola da Urbino.

Depicting Delilah and Samson and inscribed Dalida and Sanson, the 10½in (27cm) diameter dish at L&T had been kept in a draw in Lowood House in the Scottish Borders and the auction house had it restored by a “museum-level” expert prior to the October 6 sale. Lowood had been the home of the Hamilton family since 1947. The collection sold at L&T was amassed over the past two centuries by the Hamiltons and another Scottish family, the Crum Ewings.

The Crum Ewing fortunes began with businessman and banker James Ewing (1775- 1853). Letters exist describing the purchase of the dish in 1844 by Ewing who was on a Grand Tour: in a letter sent from Florence, he describes buying items in Genoa. The plate was also recorded in the house in 1926.

“Holy grail”

The 420-lot L&T sale also included a second, less rare, Italian maiolica dish (also found broken in a drawer) from the workshop of Giorgio Andreoli, sold at £34,000.

Gavin Strang, L&T managing director and auctioneer on the rostrum on sale day, said: “This is a holy grail for maiolica collectors and two determined bidders took it past the million-pound mark. “This is the third millionpound- plus lot for Lyon & Turnbull this year. We are having a phenomenal 2021.”

The other two £1m-plus sales were a copy of the Declaration of Independence sold at Freeman’s in partnership with L&T for $3.7m (£2.85m) on July 1 (ATG No 2500) and a c.1330 French gothic ivory table casket or coffret for £1.2m in May (ATG No 2494).