“La Bella Forma – Fashion and Design in 20th Century” by Sophie Von der Goltz

On 8 November we welcomed Sophie Von der Goltz to Clair Hall for our monthly lecture. Entitled La Bella Forma, Sophie delighted us with her enthusiasm for her two passions: Fashion and Ceramics.

Sophie has an MA in 16th century Venetian Costume, she is a specialist in European Ceramics at Bonham’s and is Treasurer of the French Porcelain Society. In addition she has written “In Focus: A Venetian Sixteenth-century Costume Book as an Authentic Visual Record in Art and Authenticity”.

Sophie’s introduction began with the history of Capodimonte porcelain (sometimes “Capo di Monte”) created by the Capodimonte porcelain manufactory which operated in Naples, Italy, between 1743 and 1759. Capodimonte is the best known factory for early Italian porcelain and is most famous for its moulded figurines. The Doccia porcelain manufactory near Florence being the other main Italian factory.

The porcelain of Capodimonte, and later Naples, was a “superb” translucent soft-paste, “more beautiful” but much harder to fire than the German hard-pastes, or “a particularly clear, warm, white, covered with a mildly lustrous glaze”. The Capodimonte mark was a fleur-de-lis in blue, or impressed in relief inside a circle.

The entire Capodimonte factory was moved to Madrid when its founder King Charles inherited the Spanish throne from his brother in 1759. King Charles III was so enamoured of the porcelain that he took the production to Madrid including the moulds, 41 workers and several thousand pounds of clay! Strictly speaking, this was the end of “Capodimonte porcelain”, but the reputation of the factory’s products was so high that the name is often claimed and used for porcelain made in other factories in or around Naples.

Sophie showed many fine examples of soft paste porcelain. Tea pots, tea bowls with botanical and oriental flowers including Korean flower decorations, porcelain figures of daily Neapolitan life such as “A Vegetable Seller” and also “The famous Cries of London” and, from the Frankenthal manufactory in Germany, “The Coal Seller”.  She also showed magnificent snuff boxes, the interiors of which have the highest calibre of painting, in the British Museum and the Metropolitan museum in New York.

Fashion in art was reflected precisely in porcelain and we were able to compare portraiture and porcelain figures side by side through the centuries with many fine interpretations of fabrics, copies of embellishment, bodice and skirt shapes, long coats and crinolines. Subtle changes in headwear and men’s breeches were all apparent and the tricorn hat frequently worn became bicorn by late 1780-1790 and gave way to the conical hat becoming the top hat. We noted that the traditional figurine bases were often more rounded rather than rocky in appearance and some had purely ornamental scrollwork along the edges. Many, but not all, figurines made during this time reflected life in the royal court or the newly emerging middle classes.

A fascinating and informative lecture that has inspired us to look more closely at fashion and art in porcelain and take more visits to The British Museum and the V&A.  Perhaps we should organise a trip to Naples to visit the Villa Comunale when their exhibition is open for special occasions or even a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of New York?