Sculptures

The Capodimonte porcelain factory was founded by the Bourbon King Charles of Naples in 1743. When he conquered the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, overcoming the opposition of the Austrians, he brought to Naples his advisers, his artists and even his art collections inherited from his mother, Elisabetta, the last of the Farnese ducal family. And he straightway built the Capodimonte Palace to house the collection. One of his various artistic projects was the famous porcelain factory. He had become interested in porcelain after marrying Maria Amalia Walburg of Saxony in 1738, the granddaughter of Augustus (II) the Strong of Saxony, who in 1710 had founded Europe’s first porcelain factory, Meissen. The bride’s dowry in fact included numerous cases containing porcelain dinner and tea services, and this was what first kindled Charle’s interest in producing his own porcelain. The first experiments in making porcelain began in the courtyards of the royal palace at Capo di Monte above Naples in 1740 with the aid of Vittorio Schepers, who, after a number of attempts, finally came up with a unique, wonderfully workable soft-paste for the porcelain. Many of the enamel paints used were ordered direct from Venice and Dresden. By 1743, the results were so good that King Charles ordered the architect Ferdinando Sanfelice to design a special building for the factory in the Capodimonte park. Well-know artists and painters arrived from far and wide. In the new building, workers and artists lived – and argued and schemed – like hermits in a small hard-working monastic community, under the auspices of the accountant Aniello Andrea Carolla. In the month of December alone, the kilns of Capodimonte produced 1970 unbroken pieces: snuff-boxes, goblets, teapots, cups, walking-stick handles and saucers. King Charles’assistants took their inspiration from the famous Meissen, Ginori and Venezia companies. Between 1743 and 1745 the chief modeller Giuseppe Gricc created a series of figurines from the Italian tradition of Commedia dell’Arte (popular theatre), including the characters of Punch, Pantaloon, Columbine and Harlequin seen playing cards or sitting at a plate of spaghetti. Other figurines represented religious or mythological subjects, musicians, singers, peasants and fishermen. These first pieces were neither in the Rococo style, nor in what we now refer to as the Capodimonte style. The Capodimonte mark at the time was a light-blue or gold Bourbon lily. In the figurines, the mark is generally set into the paste, inside a circle. Year by year, the company grew, hiring new artists, increasing output, adding new shapes and decorations, enriching the collection with important pieces. In the 1745, the first shop was opened in Naples. Production had reached extremely high levels of artistry and craftsmanship. There were around 58 employees working in the factory, and every important or influential artist tended to bring along with them their children, relatives and their offspring, setting them up in various departments, taking them on as their apprentices and successors. To his great disappointment, King Charles had to depart from Naples in 1759 to become King of Spain, leaving his Neapolitan kingdom to his young son Ferdinand and a guardianship council appointed by the Prime Minister Tanuccu. Following King Charles’ retinue to Spain were three ships laden with his beloved porcelain company (artists, workers, machinery, equipment and almost 5 tonnes of clay). A good number of the artists left for Spain, but many remained in Naples. before leaving, however, King Charles had everything demolished or destroyed that could reveal secret of the porcelain. From the kilns to the remains of broken items, everything was buried in the park. On the other hand, finished pieces of porcelain were sold off at a good profit, right up until 1765. In Spain, King Charles straightway built a new factory near Madrid (Buon Retiro) which produced similar porcelain but gradually lost its initial freshness, so much so that towards 1803 the factory stopped its more artistic production and started making items in hard-paste for everyday use. This signalled the true and of the first “golden age” of Capodimonte, a period which had reached its zenith between 1743 and 1759. After King Charles had left for Spain, King Ferdinand IV decided he wished to continue in his father’s tradition. In 1780 he set up a new porcelain factory, and a new phase of porcelain-making began in Naples. During the following fifteen years, Capodimonte porcelain was to achieve and even greater output and a greater quality level. The production of biscuit – unglazed porcelain – was begun, all earlier pieces having a shiny, glazed surface. The mark with the crown and “N” for Naples is from this period. But at this point, the French Revolution made itself felt, threatening the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily directly and causing serious problems for the factory. When Giuseppe Bonaparte set up a Napoleonic governemnt and crowned himself King of Naples, the factory began its short, sad decline. What remained of the immense heritage was bought by the Doccia porcelain works close to Florence. In 1896, the Doccia (Ginori) factory was merged with the Milanese company Richard, and thus the name Richard-Ginori came into being. For a certain period, this story seems to have been halted, but in 1925, taking the cue from the skills and passion of craftsmen of the past, a new porcelain factory was set up near Milan where some of the most able sculptors gave life to the modern tradition of Capodimonte. Gradually Capodimonte as we know it today developed, to the point that it rivals the glories of the past. Copies of the old master-modellers works have been deliberately avoided, and the old traditions have been imbued with present-day originality, reality and humor. And as a result, a true school has been born around the factory and around the area. Other excellent factories have opened where famous sculptors and modellers work or have worked. For some, it is strange to think that companies based near Milan and in the veneto region are today carrying on a tradition developed in Naples, and indeed eighty percent of Capodimonte figurines are now produced in the Veneto region and exported throughout the world. Anyone wanting to collect these figurines should remember that there are factories outside italy that imitate Capodimonte, at times even using the trademark. There are even some importers who bring in low-quality pieces produced in the Far East and sell them as Italian pieces thanks to the “N” mark found on the base. It is therefore essential for collectors to check the guarantee certificate carefully before buying a piece in order to ascertain the origin of a piece. Capodimonte pieces must not be confused with figurines produced using resin and a chemical hardener. Instead of a totally hand-made piece that has been fired two or three times at temperatures of up to 1280 C, these copies are hardened and painted at room temperature. The result is an imitation porcelain that is poles apart from the true artistry that only porcelain can give, and such pieces should never be sold as Capodimonte porcelain as many unscrupulous dealers attempt to.