Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sculpture of the Day: Lady with Blackamoor, 1737-1740

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Early porcelain figures such as this Meissen figural group were made to be placed on the dining table during the dessert course of grand dinners. Such figures replaced the sugar paste and wax figures that had been made centuries earlier to adorn the table during royal feasts. The original purpose of these figures was to serve as a symbol of dynastic power and to celebrate political allegiances. To this end, allegorical themes were introduced into these table settings. Germany’s Meissen was the first factory to make porcelain figures for the dessert table, thereby setting the conventions which would be followed by rival manufacturers for decades to come.

In a wealthy Eighteenth Century household, the dessert course was the one on which the greatest expense was lavished. The delicacies served and the fine porcelain which accompanied the course was considered one of the greatest reflections of the wealth and taste and social standing of the host.

This richly decorated figure group is an excellent example of the style which prevailed. It depicts a seated woman in an elaborate gown. She’s drinking coffee with a pug dog seated on her lap. A servant attends her. The depiction of coffee, a pug and an African servant meant to convey exotic associations and luxuries not afforded in most English homes. In England, in the Eighteenth Century, only about 10,000 Africans were estimated to have been part of the population. Sadly, most of these individuals worked as unpaid domestic staff.

This group was modeled by Johann Joachim Kändler (1706 -1775) for Meissen between 1737 and 1740 and was created expressly for export to Britain.

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