The Arlecchino Antique-ShopThe History of Capodimonte porcelain
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The Capodimonte Porcelain

The origin of Capodimonte porcelain dates back to the early eighteenth century and geographically to the Kingdom of Naples. The father of Capodimonte porcelain is considered to be Charles of Bourbon (1716-1788) son of Philip V of Spain and his second wife, the Italian, Elizabeth Farnese. Charles was coronated King of Naples and Sicily on August 3rd. 1734 in Palermo Cathedral becoming Charles VII (1738-1759). In 1738 he married Maria Amalia daughter of the King of Saxony, Augustus III of Poland and granddaughter of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland and founder of the first European hard paste porcelain factory in Meissen in 1710.

It was from this union that Charles' interest in porcelain production in Naples first sprang. His desire was to create a porcelain production of a quality comparable with the factory in Saxony, whose methods and ingredients were only known by the chemist Bottiger. Charles initially allocated a small building in the Royal Palace to be dedicated to porcelain production under the direction of Giovanni Caselli and the chemist Livio Ottavio Schepers, who had originally worked at the Neapolitan Mint.

In spite of many efforts, including those underhand, the formula for porcelain remained a mystery. From the many investigations Charles finally concluded that the conditions in this little building were not suitable for porcelain production, there being insufficient space for the ovens and driers. In 1743 Charles then commissioned the construction of a new factory in the Royal Wood of Capodimonte, the architect being Ferdinando Sanfelice.

After much research throughout Italy to find a suitable substance to produce porcelain equal in quality to Chinese porcelain, deposits of kaolin, similar to that used by the Chinese, were discovered at Fuscaldo and Paola in the Province of Catanzaro. Immediately Charles ordered brushes and all painting equipment from Dresda, and gold, used for the gilding, was obtained from crushed Ungheris and Zecchinis. Charles also employed the chemist and son of Livio Schepers, Gaetano Schepers, who perfected the porcelain paste .

Full production began with a workforce consisting of artistic director of miniatures, Giovanni Caselli, painter of the Royal Camera, his niece Maria Caselli painted flowers and landscapes, Giuseppe della Torre, Luigi Restile and Giacomo d'Avolio painted animals and battle scenes, Nicola Senzapaura painted villages and scenes with little figures and Giacomo Nani painted animals and fruit. The miniaturists Giovanni Sigismondo Fischer from Dresda and Ferdinand Sorrentino from Naples painted snuff-boxes. Knobs on walking sticks were mounted in gold by the Frenchman Pietro Chevalier and the Neapolitan Antonio de Laurentis.

The products manufactured at Capodimonte in this period included plates, vases, small and large bowls, tea and coffee cups, large and small jugs, sugar bowls, tea caddies, teapots, snuff-boxes, and walking stick handles mounted in gold.

In 1759 Philip V of Spain died and Charles took up the Spanish throne becoming Charles III King of Spain (1759-1788). Prior to his departure from Naples he ordered the demolition of the Royal Factory and transported all moulds, models and artists with him to Spain to found the porcelain factory Buen Retiro near Madrid, in an attempt to preserve his secret of porcelain manufacture and to leave almost no trace as to the origin of his discoveries.

Charles' son Ferdinand (1751-1825) succeeded his father to the Neapolitan throne becoming Ferdinand IV King of Naples (1759-1816) and later as Ferdinand I King of the Two Sicilies (1816-1825). Ferdinand inherited his father's passion for porcelain and, as a relatively young man of twenty, he charged the Brigadier Marquis Ricci with the task of creating a new factory at the Royal Villa at Portici, appointing him as director. At the same time Ferdinand also ordered that all the remaining porcelain, tools and machinery from his father's original factory be brought to the Royal Palace at Naples where the methods of Charles' original porcelain production were deduced. Construction of the new factory commenced in September 1771 and finished in February 1772 whereupon production began.

Sadly, soon after the completion of this new factory, Ricci died. He was succeeded, as director, by the Spaniard, Thomas Perez, an official to the First Secretary of State. The modellers at this time were Francesco Celebrano and Francesco Chiari, and the painters included Carlo Coccorese who had originally worked in Charles' factory prior to its destruction and, through a series of misfortunes, had returned from Spain finding work and recognition finally under Perez. Perez also increased the staff, employing in particular Saverio Grue, son of the painter Francesco Antonio Grue. Saverio was reknowned not only for his painting abilities  but also for his porcelain sculpture.

In this period the shape, style and decoration of the porcelain production was similar to that of the original Capodimonte factory. The factory output was relatively small employing few artists and the production was destined either for the Court or for visiting royalty or nobility.

In 1779 Domenico Venuti replaced Perez as director of the Royal Factory. Under Venuti's orders other remains of Charles' original porcelain production which had been found abandoned at the Royal  Palace of Portici, including plaster copies of Grecian busts found in the Herculaneum excavations, were brought to the Royal Palace of Naples to be used as models for the sculptors and painters. Venuti also proposed the creation of a special academy, the Academy of the Nude (l'Accademia del Nudo), which Ferdinand duly founded in December 1781.

The aim of this academy was to return to the study of the antique and pure principles of art which, at that time, had been considered abandoned in favour of a more fashionable genre. One of the first artists to give lessons in this academy was Costanzo Angelini, whose studies and work of the nude occupy pride of place in Italian art together with those of the sculptor Antonio Canova.

Under Venuti's able direction the production at the Royal Factory reached its zenith of artistic splendour becoming famous throughout Europe. Of particular note were the production of two porcelain cases for two table clocks which played minuets. These clocks represented two different themes, on one, the four empires of the world were represented, and on the other, the turn of night to day was represented. The sculpture and painting of these pieces were executed under the direction of Venuti and Giacomo Milani respectively. These clocks were so beautiful that two songs were written after their two creators.

In 1782 Ferdinand ordered the production of a special dinner service intended as a gift for his father, Charles III of Spain, and founder of the original Capodimonte factory. This service was decorated with images of the vases and pictures found in the Herculaneum excavations. A special ninety four page catalogue was also produced by Venuti and Vincenzo Flauti.

These gifts, accompanied by two artists involved in their production, Giacomo Milani and Antonio Cioffi, were sent to Spain to the Spanish Court. Their reception, however, was fairly cold. The hospitality and appreciation of the Spanish King and Court was found wanting, the artists were not even permitted to present their work to the King. They returned to Naples after a hazardous return journey, offended and disappointed.

In 1785, however, Ferdinand ordered the production of another special "Etruscan" dinner service for George III, King of England. Ferdinand also required the production of a publication in which Venuti was to describe the decoration of the service in French. Gaetano Carcani, the director of the Royal Press was ordered to print one hundred copies of the book on Imperial Paper and a further six copies on Dutch Paper. The service was finished in April 1785 and the printing in May of the same year.

The book consisted of 157 prints the first of which was a sepulchre uncovered at Nola. Each of the others represented individual pieces of the service modelled in shape and subject on the designs of different painted vases found in the excavations at Nola, Herculaneum, Pompei and in other parts of the Kingdom of Naples. At the end of the volume there was a large illustration depicting Tasconte, King of Etruria, presiding over the gladiatorial games.

The famous modeller FilippoTagliolini accompanied this service to London and presented it to George III . In a subsequent letter to Venuti, Tagliolini reported that the King was overwhelmed with gratitude on receiving such a beautiful gift. This service was thought to be lost, but was latterly found in one of the cupboards in Windsor castle where it had been placed for safekeeping during restoration work.

Other porcelain dinner services were also produced for the Duchess of Parma, General Acton, a certain Mr. Batson and others. Famous clients of the Royal Factory included the English Admiral, Horatio Nelson, who wished to acquire the beautifully modelled figurines in Bisquit of the King, Queen and all the Royal Family. It is reported that Nelson, after having asked their price, was informed that not only these pieces, but any others he desired were to be given as a gift to Nelson from Ferdinand IV King of Naples. In a letter to Lord Saint Vincent Nelson described the event concluding "C'est très-beau de la parte du roi".


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The Official Markings
of Capodimonte Porcelain

Colors used may be in variation
of blue (the color of Naples Italy)
or gold.

Capodimonte Marking (1745-1759)

Capodimonte Marking (1759-1770)

Capodimonte Marking (1770-1834)

Capodimonte Marking (1900-today)


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