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History Of Pottery And Porcelain:
Pottery And Porcelain Defined
History Of Pottery
Forms Employed By The Italians
Holland - Delft
Introduction To Porcelain
Oriental Porcelain China
Pottery And Porcelain
Clocks And Watches
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Two interesting facts are to be noticed in the historic progress of ceramic art. One is, its continued and close alliance with religious events; another, its constant protection by crowned heads or royal houses. The emoluments, efforts, and patronage of these latter alone maintained it and elevated it to the high degree of excellence which has caused it to be classed among the great arts of the middle ages and the renaissance. This royal patronage is a distinction which it alone enjoyed up to the dissolution of the French empire in 1870. We have traced the progress of pottery through the struggles of the crusades into Italy, where it was extensively employed in ecclesiastical decoration, and where, under the vigorous efforts of princely houses, it long maintained an eminence which would scarcely have been reached under less encouraging circumstances. At last we find it in France, where, from its first introduction almost to the present day, it has enjoyed constant and individual attention from the personages who have sat over her destinies and held the sceptre of power; not only this, we also find the boldest Huguenot her most untiring and successful potter. The wares of France are interesting for two reasons: their historic connection, and their ultra and effective beauty of design. They are just far enough removed from foreign influences to give them an individuality and a rarity which probably surpasses even the Italian productions; at least one of her wares, the Oiron, enjoys the solitary distinction of being unobtainable.
While the effect of the Della Robbia and Cellini school is visible upon this extraordinary ware, enough of French versatility has been introduced to identify it with the country with which it is associated ; and all its specimens bear testimony to that love of detail and nice appreciation of completeness which everywhere identifies the French decoration. French pottery is endowed with another feature which we have hitherto failed to distinguish, and that is a multiplicity of forms, destinations, and adaptations. Where Italy was satisfied with few things, France must have everything; consequently we find in her catalogue structures of pottery and the smallest articles adapted to household economy, either in the way of ornament or service. France has ever been a nation given to trifling things; a propensity for niceness and prettiness has often reacted upon her when brought in contact with the hard, practical ideas of other nations. It is in this feature that she excels when we consider her productions in pottery. She found in it a plaything which afterwards rose, or fell, to the level of a great industry; she first invested it with merit, then with power; and where nations about her treated it as a valuable addition to their commercial affairs, she accepted it as a new medium upon which skill and genius might exercise and achieve their loftiest ambitions; consequently we find in France more really elegant and artistic pottery work than in Germany or Holland.
Pottery generally improves or retrogresses in quality according to the locality in which it is manufactured; this is owing sometimes to her manner of treatment of the clay, but generally to the quality of the clay itself. In Italy the clay was not of the finest quality, while in France, through effort and the advantages of a greater variety of soil, we find the plain baked pottery of a composition and texture far more beautiful and durable. These are invaluable advantages when considered in connection with form and relievo ornament, and in these two branches the French work particularly excels. A favorite earth in the construction of pottery was the terre de pipe, its pure whiteness and fineness affording excellent qualities which went far towards perfecting the French styles of decoration. It was this earth which was so successfully applied in the Oiron, or Henri II. ware; scarcely any other could have been used in the production of such sharp outline and delicacy as we here find.
M. Jacquemart, at the outset of his chapter upon the "Renaissance Francai's," remarks the difficulty encountered in trying to separate the ceramics of the middle ages from that of the revival-a difficulty which does not confront us in the history of Italy. Rabelais mentions the "blue pottery of Savignies," but we have no evidences that this ware had any immediate connection with the high artistic work which followed it; nor is there any indication of the influence of Italian productions over the French work, except in the two features previously mentioned; indeed, in the manipulation of clay these ideas would have come by natural evolution, the production of models and bare forms seeming to be the natural destination of such a pliant material as soft clay.
In France we lose the presence of great artists to become acquainted with great artizans, whose work it was to carry forward by experiment and limited scientific knowledge the methods of manufacture. Such a man was Palissy, whose hard, practical genius led him not only to more homely delineation, but to improvement in every part, while with his severe productions he still maintained the French love of the beautiful.
While Luca della Robbia portrayed the spiritual sense, Palissy clung to the harmonies of visible objects, each meeting with the same perfection and success in his own sphere.
The collection of Mr. Bernal, sold in London in 1855, was in many respects the most remarkable then owned in England ; even this, complete as it was, contained none of the Oiron, or Henri II. ware. One or two of the other pieces I mention here, to convey to the reader some information as regards value and so forth. Number 1986 of the catalogue was "a very fine dish," of curious early ware-a lady and a gentleman in the centre, surrounded by arabesques and cupids on festoons of foliage, the design slightly raised on buff ground, 20 inches in diameter. Sold to the British Museum for two hundred and thirty dollars in gold.
Number 2076 was "A circular dish," on a foot-a lizard in the centre, and a very rich border, 122 1 inches in diameter. Sold to Baron Gustave de Rothschild for eight hundred and ten dollars in gold.
This plate last mentioned was badly broken, but had been repaired; one simple fact gave it its great value-it was made by Bernard Palissy.