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Capo di Monte Porcelain
Knowing the history of old porcelain adds much to the collector's pleasure in selecting his examples. The story appeals to the mind as the appearance attracts the eye.
Capo di Monte is one of the most desired of all porcelains, and genuine pieces are hard to find, since quantities of imitations have been produced. To add to the confusion, when the Marquis Giorni purchased the Capo di Monte molds for his establishment at Doccio after the works there had been destroyed, he used the same mark. His wares were very similar to the earlier productions.
The original factory was founded in Naples in 1736. When the King of Naples left Italy to assume the crown of Spain, he took with him many of the skilled artists who had been responsible for the best productions of the factory. In reality the factory was transferred to Spain, where the work was carried on in a half-hearted way by Ferdinand IV, who succeeded his father. In 1773 the factory was moved to Portici but after a short time was returned to Naples. There it continued as a state factory until 1807. At that time it was acquired by a commercial corporation. When it was compelled to close in 1821, the story of one of the earliest and most important porcelain works in Europe came to an end.
It is not generally known that the Capo di Monte factory produced great amounts of domestic wares and large decorative pieces. Unfortunately most of this ware which has survived is now in private collections or museums.
The decorative motifs which are most frequently seen are the molded and applied reliefs, but there are other forms of ornamentation which, from an artistic standpoint, are said by many to excel them. Particularly did the Neapolitan artists use with great charm that form of decoration known as en cama'aeu. These paintings are especially attractive in violet or black monochrome when used on tableware made of this porcelain, but they are less effective on the peasant ware. Fortunate is the collector who finds an inkstand or snuffbox decorated with the modeled reliefs in rather brilliant colors. The same kind of ornament is found on teacups, the earlier examples having a very fine and soft texture. The pieces decorated in relief figures of the better quality have flesh tints which are similar to those found in paintings by the old masters. At times a trace of stippling is seen, but it cannot always be taken as a means of identification, for it appears on other porcelains and on reproductions of Capo di Monte.
In many of the earlier examples of this ware the decoration is oriental in character. In later periods panels with classic motifs in medallion form appear on a black ground with gilt bands. Other examples have painted panels of landscapes and harbor scenes. An important specialty of this factory is the unadorned white figure, which portrayed the high skill of the artist.
One of the earliest marks used on Capo di Monte before the factory was moved from Naples was the fleurde-lis. On the ware produced during the Spanish period the marks were various forms of the letters R F and F R F, surmounted with a crown. When the factory was returned to Naples, the initials were discontinued, and the letter N used with or without the crown. Unless the factory has been closed during World War II, it is still in existence and is using the molds from which reproductions are being made.
The collector should know the difference between the early and late productions. In the early days the paste was the artificial or soft product. After the factory was removed to Portici, hard paste began to be made. By 1807 the use of soft paste was discontinued entirely. In the early soft pastes there are tones ranging from green to pale gray, but they are not pronounced. The larger pieces show more definite attention to details than do the smaller pieces. The general modeling of the ware is good.