Archive for the ‘Ceramics’ Category

Mellow albarello

March 13, 2014
Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

In the March issue of Apollo I read a piece by Emma Crighton-Miller about Delft blue-and-white which mentioned that albarelli – maiolica apothecary jars – are sometimes adapted and used as water jars by Japanese tea ceremony devotees.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

An example of a Japanese-made water jar inspired by the albarello look, in the Freer collection, can be seen here.

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

This shows rather nicely how the taste for exoticism is not exclusively western. Indeed, Japanese tea taste is a rich mixture of international influences, including wares and materials from both Asia and Europe.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub's face. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub’s face. ©National Trust Collections

With that in mind the original albarelli do indeed have an air of wabi – the imperfect, modest beauty associated with the Japanese tea ceremony. Perhaps we could even call it ‘Hispano-Moresque wabi‘ or ‘Italian wabi‘?

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman's head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman’s head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

These particular albarelli were bequeathed to the National Trust by antiques dealer Reginald Sneyers in 1989. They are on display at Ightham Mote, an ancient half-timbered house that was carefully restored by the Colyer-Fergusson family in the late nineteenth before being given to the National Trust by American philanthropist Charles Henry Robinson in 1985.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

So like that Japanese pseudo-albarello in an American collection, these jars, too, convey a multi-layered message about how we value and channel the past. In heritage, nothing is ever straightforward.


February 14, 2013
The Peacock Room wityh blue and white Chinese Ceramics of the Kangxi period. © 2010 - 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

The Peacock Room with blue and white Chinese porcelain of the Kangxi period. © 2010 – 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

Fellow blogger Courtney Barnes recently mentioned a website called The Story of the Beautiful, which chronicles the remarkable and revealing history of the Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, part of the Smithsonian Institution.

As The Story of the Beautiful describes, the Peacock Room was originally constructed by architect Thomas Jeckyll for the London house of shipowner Charles Leyland in the mid 1870s, as a cabinet to display blue and white Chinese porcelain. Then the artist James McNeill Whistler spectacularly redecorated the room, transforming it into a three-dimensional work of art.

The Peacock Room with various Asian ceramics. © 2010 - 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

The Peacock Room with various Asian ceramics. © 2010 – 2013 Smithsonian Institution and Wayne State University Libraries

After Leyland’s death the room was purchased by American industrialist and collector Charles Lang Freer in 1904 and shipped to his house in Detroit. Freer had a different taste in ceramics, preferring subtle glaze effects and collecting wares from across the whole of Asia.

After being moved from Detroit to the public art gallery Freer had initiated and funded in Washington, the Peacock Room was initially displayed with blue and white porcelain, as it had been in London. Now, following the cleaning and conservation of the painted decoration, Freer’s choice of ceramics has been reinstated.

Apart from having a model website, this project also demonstrates brilliantly how objects are changed by their physical context. It simultaneously proves how the context is changed when the objects within it are changed. And on top of that it illustrates how a historic interior can have more than one valid appearance – quite an achievement for a single room, but then this is not just any old room.

Petworth’s oriental vibe

November 27, 2012

Two Chinese lidded vases, Kangxi period (1662-1722), acquired by Elizabeth Duchess of Somerset in the late 17th century. They stand in front of a Chinese lacquer screen that dates from the same period but was acquired for Petworth in 1882 in the Hamilton Palace sale. ©National Trust Images/Christopher Hurst

In his new book about Petworth, Christopher Rowell highlights the sumptuous taste of Eizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset, the late 17th-century chatelaine of the house.

Portrait of Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset with her son Algernon, by John Closterman, c. 1692. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Like her friend Queen Mary, Duchess Elizabeth was a keen collector of blue and white porcelain.

Some of Duchess Elizabeth’s Chinese vases on display in the Carved Room. They originally stood on the baroque carved stands which now hold some of the busts. ©National Trust Images/Bill Batten

Several dealers are known to have supplied porcelain to the Duchess, including a ‘Mrs Vanderhoven’, a ‘Mr Van Collema’, and a ‘Mrs Bull for Delf [i.e. Delft] ware.’

Some of the lacquer cabinets and coffers collected by Duchess Elizabeth in what is now called Mrs Wyndham’s Bedroom. ©National Trust Images/Bill Batten

‘Mrs Harrison’, who also supplied the Queen, was paid £52 for ‘a Jappan Cabinet and frame’ in 1695.

The front of one of the 17th-century Japanese lacquer cabinets at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In characteristic baroque style, reflective materials were combined wherever possible. Two ‘India Cabinets’ (‘India’ being a generic terms for East Asian products) in the King of Spain’s Drawing Room were each surmounted by no fewer than 22 pieces of China. In Duchess Elizabeth’s China Closet, the walls were covered with mirrors ‘ornamented wth carved work & 45 pieces of China.’

Detail of the interior of the 17th-century Japanese lacquer cabinet below the Grand Staircase at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Christopher’s book can be purchased through the National Trust Bookshop and via Amazon.

Cataloguing the Duchess’s teapot

January 17, 2012

Chinese porcelain teapot, Zhangzhou white ware, c. 1650-1670 with European silver-gilt mounts, c. 1660-1680, at Ham House (inv. no. 1139006). ©NTPL/Bill Batten

At Ham House, Surrey, there is an old and rather iconic Chinese teapot, which normally lives on a tea table in the so-called Duchess’s Private Closet. It has traditionally been called the Duchess of Lauderdale’s teapot, as it is thought to have been owned by Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart and later Countess and Duchess of Lauderdale (1626-1698).

Portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, by Sir Peter Lely, at Ham House (inv. no. 1139789). ©NTPL/John Bethell

The Duchess of Lauderdale played an important role in creating the appearance of Ham House as we can still see it today. Her husband John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale, was an intimate of Charles II and was given the powerful post of Secretary of State for Scotland. At Ham the Lauderdales created grand suites of apartments with sumptuous furnishings sourced from across Europe and even from the Far East.

Chinese porcelain vase, Zhangzhou white ware, Kangxi period (1662-1722), height 334 mm, in the British Museum, on loan from the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art (inv. no. AN569782001). ©Trustees of the British Museum

We don’t have absolute proof that the Duchess owned the teapot, but it is thought to date from about 1650-1670, so the period fits. In the past it has been variously described as ‘celadon’ or as Ge, Tongqi or Dehua ware. However, the National Trust’s ceramics adviser Patricia Ferguson recently noticed that a vase with a similar glaze in the British Museum had been recatalogued as white Zhangzhou ware.

The Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House, with the Chinese teapot on the Javanese tea table. ©NTPL/John Hammond

This is a rare type of underfired porcelain produced at the Zhangzhou kilns in Fujian province during the seventeenth century in imitation of the famous white-glazed Ding ware. Zhangzhou white wares were not generally made for export and this particular teapot must have come to Europe in the private cargo of a European merchant. At Ham House it sits on another late-seventeenth-century exotic rarity, a low Javanese table raised on a European base to serve as a tea table.

Patterns of beauty at Wightwick

June 21, 2011

A corner of the Great Parlour at Wightwick Manor. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The July 2011 issue of The World of Interiors features an article on Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, with text by Nicholas Mander and photographs by Christopher Simon Sykes.

Detail of a piece of 'Diagonal Trail' fabric, designed by J.H. Dearle for Morris & Co, in the Oak Room at Wightwick. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I thought I would use that as a pretext to show some more details of the amazing Arts and Crafts interiors at Wightwick.

Early Moorcroft vase in the Daisy Room at Wightwick. ©NTPL/Paul Raeside

Wightwick was built by Edward Ould for Theodore Mander, a prosperous Victorian paint and varnish manufacturer.

Detail of the 'Acanthus' wallpaper pattern, designed by William Morris in about 1875, in the eponymous Acanthus Bedroom at Wightwick Manor. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Theodore Mander was religious and public-spirited and was interested in John Ruskin’s ideas about the importance of craftsmanship and the inspiration of the past. His outlook is reflected in the Arts and Crafts-style decoration of the house.

Copy of the 'Kelmscott Chaucer', published by William Morris in 1896, his last major artistic project, at Wightwick Manor. ©NTPL/Paul Raeside

The house was further enriched by Theodore Mander’s eldest son Sir Geoffrey Mander and his wife, Pre-Raphaelite expert Rosalie Glynn Grylls. The Manders presented Wightwick Manor to the National Trust in 1937, when regard for anything Victorian was at a low ebb.

Detail of the 'Wild Tulip' wallpaper by Morris & Co in the Dining Room at Wightwick Manor. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Mander family subsequently continued to add choice pieces to the Wightwick collection, joined by several generous donors. In 2007, for instance, an anonymous benefactor gave a copy Morris’s Kelmscott Chaucer.

Postmodern porcelain

September 17, 2010

Set of six blue and white Cola bottles by Taikkun Li, porcelain, 22.9 cm high. ©Pagoda Red

The Style Court blog recently featured these blue and white Cola bottles by Chinese artist Taikkun Li, available via Pagoda Red. They are a rather wonderful hybrid of modern global branding and traditional Chinese ceramic design.

Pair of Chinese gourd-shaped vases, porcelain, c 1635-40, at Ickworth House, Suffolk. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Their outline is vaguely reminiscent of a gourd-shaped vase, a traditional East Asian ceramic shape.

Baroque-style display of ceramics in the State Dressing Room at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire. ©NTPL/J. Whitaker

Courtney Barnes of Style Court also alerted me to a quote by Taikkun Li, who says on his own website

The modern mind has lost all capacity to wonder. It has lost all capacity to look into the mysterious, into the miraculous – because of knowledge, because it thinks it knows.

East Asian ceramics on a late seventeenth-century Antwerp cabinet at Belton House, Lincolnshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I slightly disagree with him: I think his own work proves how we can recapture a sense of wonder, if we try hard enough.

Oak court cupboard with blue and white ceramics in the Music Room at Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we could insert some of Taikkun Li’s bottles among the ceramics on display at a historic house? They would look right at home, I think.

Fireplace in the Acanthus Room at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, West Midlands. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

They would fit into a Baroque setting, as part of a massed display of blue and white. But they would also work in an Arts and Crafts interior, on an oak shelf against some Morris fabric or wallpaper. Perhaps an idea for the National Trust’s contemporary arts programme?

Thinking pink

September 3, 2010

Large famille rose lidded vases in the Corridor at Polesden Lacey, Surrey. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the curious facts about the type of Chinese procelain known in the west as famille rose is that the pink colour used in it didn’t originate in China.

Pair of famille rose ducks from the Gubbay collection at Clandon Park, Surrey. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The recipe for this substance, a preparation of colloidal gold and stannous hydroxide, was known as ‘purple of Cassius’, after the German physician Andreas Cassius the younger who published the recipe for it 1685 – although he wasn’t the first to describe it. 

Jesuit missionaries subsequently took the formula to China, where it was introduced into the porcelain production process in about 1723.

Famille rose chargers in the Drawing Room at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Ironically, Europeans admired famille rose for its seemingly exotic colour scheme, as well as its technical finesse. However, not only did the pink colour originally come from Europe, the decoration of many famille rose pieces was also specifically designed for the European market.

Famille rose fishbowl in the Saloon at Wallington, Northumberland. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Does that mean that we can never really appreciate something if it doesn’t have an element of familiarity?

The Dutch connection

July 2, 2010

The Diogenes Room at Dyrham, taking its name from the subject of the tapestries, and also featuring Delft flower pyramids and other vessels. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Dyrham Park, in Gloucestershire, has a variety of Dutch collections. I previously mentioned the Dutch paintings, but there is also a rare collection of seventeenth-century Delft glazed earthenware.

William Blathwayt (?1649-1717) by Michael Dahl. ©NTPL/Ian Blantern

These Delft vessels and flower stands were acquired by William Blathwayt during his travels on the Continent. As a high-ranking official under William III (if a slightly plodding one – he was known as ‘the elephant’) he frequently accompanied the Dutch king on his visits back to Holland.

One of the Delft flower holders at Dyrham. The painted decoration is derived from Chinese models, but the shapes are a Dutch Baroque invention. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The vogue for Delft blue and white was led by the king’s wife and co-regent, Queen Mary II, who assembled a large collection of it in the Water Gallery at Hampton Court Palace, where even the furniture was painted blue and white.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The displays of flowers in the Delft vases at Dyrham are echoed by the Netherlandish flower paintings in the house.

The State Bed seen in a mirror in the Damask Bedchamber, surrounded by yet more Delft. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The state bed is in the style of Daniel Marot, the architect and designer favoured by William III.

Embossed leather panels in the East Hall. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

William Blathwayt also imported stamped leather wallhangings from Holland. All these elements together create a remarkably Dutch ambiance in the middle of hilly Gloucestershire.

The house and the garden were acquired by the Ministry of Works in 1956 and, following extensive repairs, transferred to the National Trust in 1961. Funds for the acquisition came from the National Land Fund (now the National Heritage Memorial Fund), which had been set up to save places of national importance in memory of the sacrifices of the Second World War.

Bowled over

May 28, 2010

Chinese porcelain punch bowl, painted in enamels with the western trading posts in Canton, 1780s. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

In 2008 the National Trust purchased a rare eighteenth century Chinese punch bowl with a provenance from Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire. It is decorated with a depiction of the western trading posts on the waterfront at Canton (Guanghzhou). The acquisition was made possible by generous grants from the Royal Oak Foundation, the Art Fund and the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

Chinese and westerners mingling along the waterfront. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

By imperial edict all foreign traders coming to China had to conduct their business in a restricted zone just outside Canton. There they could lease trading posts known as ‘factories’ or hong.

Chinese warehouses and mansions next to the western compounds. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

Patricia Ferguson, who has researched this bowl (and written an article on it in the 2009 NT Historic Houses and Collections Annual), dates it to either 1786 or 1788. This is based on a comparison between the national flags shown on the bowl and dated records and pictures of the trading activities in Canton.

The American and Swedish factories. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

The flags flown are those of Denmark, Spain, France, America, Sweden, Britain and the Netherlands.  It is one of the earliest examples of a depiction of the Stars and Stripes. 

Nostell Priory. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

The bowl appears in an 1806 inventory of Nostell Priory, but it is not known how it was originally acquired – the Winn family of Nostell Priory had no links with the China trade.

The Small Dining Room at Nostell. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Patricia Ferguson makes the amusing suggestion that Sir Rowland Winn, sixth Baronet (1775-1805), who was a keen fox hunter, may have won the bowl as a prize for winning a horse race.


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