This pair of Italian portrait plates are majolica, earthenware with a tin glaze. They were made in the late 1800's, probably in Urbino, in the Renaissance style of 1600's maiolica. The plates are red clay, with dished, fluted bodies and scalloped rims striped in two shades of yellow. The clay was covered with the white tin glaze and then decorated in polychrome enamels. The raised center medallions depict a helmeted soldier with his spear on one and a prelate of the church with his jeweled cap and cape on the other. They are surrounded by angels, birds and other small designs in the 'calligrafico' (minute/tiny) style which became popular in the seventeenth century.
The reverse of the plates are tin glazed with no decorations save wavy lines of blue. Each is signed with a single painted blue mark; the soldier one with the mark resembling back to back letter C's and the prelate one with one resembling 3 fishhooks. Both have molded holes in the foot rims to use for hanging. There is no country of origin mark, as these were not meant to be exported.
The dishes are 9 1/4 inches across and stand 1 3/4 inches high on a 4 inch diameter bottom rim. The one with the soldier medallion has a chip on the lower front revealing the red clay and an area upper left on the rim where the top glaze has rubbed off. On its back, there are two chips out of the foot rim, a short hairline and some nearby rough areas. The plate with the churchman has an area of flaked glaze on the foot rim and a few small ones on the outer rim. The fine craquelure is, of course, intentional.
These plates are treasures to delight the collector and decorator alike and lend a European vibe to any room.