Thursday, January 8, 2009

HISTORY OF THE TRADITION OF THE "BELLA"




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In Italy at the end of 15th century gentlemen started offering ceramic loving cups (or gifts of love) to their beloved on specific occasions: weddings, engagements, baby showers and ballrooms. These pieces usually depicted a female bust and a flying ribbon around it with the compliments "bella" (beautiful) or "gentile" (kind).

Writings were various: “Be Ludovica”,”Lorenza B”, “Maria”, “La Giulia Bella”. Sometimes we find writings like ”Orelia B e Momolo suo servo“(tr. Orelia B and Momolo her servant), “Memento”, where “Be” and “B” stand for “Bella”.

In the early examples and later on we may find the name of the sweetheart only or symbols like the heart perforated by a spike, the heart in flames or the two hands tightened together. Indeed the etymology of symbol is exchange, woven.

Therefore the loving was meant to be an exchange of reciprocal love made visible to everybody.

The origin of the loving cups is related to the change of attitude towards beauty and love in these centuries. Love was no longer concealed like it was in the Middle Ages and men wanted to make it eternal and show their feelings.

Loving cups were produced in several shapes, such as plates, spout pitchers, soup cups, amphoras, double handled vases and salt containers. According to the festivity each loving cup had a different shape and usage.

As an example the loving cup as a memento of the ballroom was filled with almond candies and sweets and it was dedicated to a young lady. Apparently this is how the tradition of favours started.

On the contrary the loving cup for the bride was accompanied by a tablecloth with an equal inscription. The married couple would drink out of the same cup to ensure fertility.
In the Renaissance loving cups became very popular and reached their most rich expressions in colours, details and shapes. Local famous artists such as Perugino (1450-1523) and Pinturicchio (1454-1513) were taken as examples.

Local craftsmen took inspiration from these artists and painted beautiful women. They had several examples of “Bella’s portraits so that the commissioners could have a choice. This might be the reason why many women did not match their contemporary sweethearts.

Portraits were painted in blue, yellow, brown and green on a dark blue ground, and covered with a high sheen glaze.

Classical literature was also a source of inspiration for the floral intricate patterns enriching portraits especially when dedicated to engagements and weddings. Some examples of loving cups are painted with mythological stories with loving subjects.

The tradition of loving cups lasted for a long time and we may still find examples in the 18th century. Several changes in styles have occurred. Interesting pieces may be found in private collections and museums.


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