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Updated: March 28, 2013 01:09 IST

Great poetry in porcelain

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A porcelain art at Salarjung Museum.
A porcelain art at Salarjung Museum.

The Capodimonte group of factories in Italy made a variety of objects and their products are the figures with dramatic actions finely modelled and delicately coloured

Italy, like France, Germany and England, is renowned for its porcelain. It was the first country that tried to imitate Chinese porcelain when it appeared in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. Documents record that some Venetian glass makers conducted experiments to produce a Chinese type hard-paste porcelain. They believed that the shining whiteness of Chinese porcelain was due to the presence of some common glass, but their products turned out to be only opaque white glass! They did not know that the brilliant white hard-paste Chinese porcelain is made up of two ingredients, kaolin and feldspar whose mixture, unlike glass, is fired up to 1,300 to 1,400 degrees centigrade.

Not only at Venice, but at several other Italian cities experiments were made to imitate Chinese porcelain, but they failed . Only at Florence, in the year 1575, a method of making soft paste porcelain was found under the patronage of Francesco Maria De Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Consequently, this porcelain is known as Medici porcelain. This, however, is an imperfect product. It is yellowish in appearance as against the bright whiteness of the true porcelain. The Florence factory closed in 1587.

During the 18th century, Italy came to boast of a number of porcelain factories: an important one being founded at Venice in 1720, largely as a result of a runaway workman from Meissen. It was closed owing to financial difficulties in 1740. Three more factories were also set up at Venice in the second half of 18th century, but somehow they ceased production due to financial difficulties and defaulting workmen.

Widely accepted

The factory which had achieved a vast measure of success and whose products have been widely accepted by other Italian factories was Capodimonte which was founded by Charless III, king of Naples and Sicily. The early ware of this factory was reminiscent of Meissen (Dresden), the famous German porcelain factory and there was a good reason for this : the king married the daughter of Augustus, the Strong (Elector of Saxony) who owned the Meissen factory and gave his daughter 17 table services as part of her dowry.

The Capodimonte factory came into existence in 1736. When King Charles III succeeded to the throne of Spain in 1759 he left for Madrid taking with him 44 workers and equipment. He rebuilt the factory near Madrid which began production in 1766. The Capodimonte factory, consequently, fell on bad times and was absorbed by a factory that came up at Naples, which was in production between 1771 and 1821.

Capodimonte group of factories — Capadimonte, Naples and Madrid — made a variety of objects. Their typical products are the figures with dramatic actions finely modelled and delicately coloured. The famous ones are the dancing figures, their gay movements well depicted, their swirling costumes with their frills ably rendered. Other objects made by Capodimonte included vessels decorated with relief, snuff boxes and table ware often painted with horsemen at battle.

The body of Capodimonte porcelain is made of a creamy white soft paste. It is very thin and crisp, thus accounting for the fine details and high degree of translucence.

Salar Jung Museum’s Capodimonte objects consist of about 50 pieces representing dancing figures, soldiers, vases and so on.


Dep. Keeper (Retd.)

Salar Jung Museum

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