Maiolica Inkwell depicting the Four Cardinal Virtues

c. 1480
Italy, Emilia-Romana, Faenza
cobalt, copper, iron and antimony pigments on tin-glazed earthenware
27 × 27.5 × 28 cm

This magnificent late fifteenth-century maiolica inkwell depicts the four Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Fortitude, Justice and Temperance as female figures seated on an architectural stellate base. In Roman and Medieval cultures, the gender of personifications in art and literature was almost exclusively female. While many scholars agree that the gender of the personification was based on the grammatical gender of abstract concepts such as prudentia or justitia in Latin and Greek, scholars have also argued that there are other, more complex reasons for this.

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Sam Fogg
Art of the Middle Ages