Renowned worldwide as one of southern Italy’s finest porcelain producers, Capodimonte bears a story wrapped up in regal luxury and exceptional styling. From its foundations in the eighteenth century to its continued celebrity among collectors, Capodimonte tells a story of artistic innovation and integrity that put Italian porcelain on par with Europe’s major producers like Sevres in France and Meissen in Germany.
What is Capodimonte Porcelain?
Capodimonte porcelain began in the outskirts of Naples in the 1740s when King Charles III of Bourbon and his queen, Amalia of Saxony, set out to establish a porcelain studio within the grounds of their palace, Reggia di Capodimonte. At the time, porcelain was just beginning to reach peak celebrity across Europe. While porcelain making was a technique perfected in Asia centuries prior, it was not popularized among European makers until later in the seventeenth century. By the eighteenth century, porcelain wares experienced unprecedented demand among aristocratic circles.
In creating the Royal Factory of Capodimonte, King Charles VII Bourbon and Queen Amalia were not only encouraging Neapolitan presence in the growing porcelain market, but they were also working to compete with already-established royal workshops. Makers like Meissen – founded by Augustus II the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (and, conveniently, Amalia’s grandfather), in 1710 – and rising star Sèvres – established in 1740 by King Louis and his famed mistress, Madame de Pompadour, were already making a name for themselves.
Early Capodimonte Porcelain
Early Capodimonte porcelain pieces were mostly painted miniatures, but as mastery of porcelain production grew, more elaborate and elegant forms emerged. Soon Capodimonte had secured an enduring status as an international purveyor of beautiful porcelain pieces, from delicate snuff boxes to grandly decorated urns and tea services. However, the maker’s tenure in Naples was brief. In the late 1750s, when Charles III took the throne in Spain, he decided to take all aspects of his thriving porcelain workshop to Madrid with him to establish the Real Fábrica del Buen Retiro.
Capodimonte returned to the Italian peninsula in the 1770s when King Ferdinand VI re-established a studio in nearby Portici. There, porcelain novelty and elegance reigned until the early years of the nineteenth century. The remains of the Capodimonte workshop were absorbed into other Italian studios between 1806 and 1830, but the brilliance of Capodimonte porcelain lives on through a remarkable array of pieces that can still be acquired on the market today. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more popular collecting categories.
A Moment for Capodimonte Porcelain Marks
Each move made by the Capodimonte workshop resulted in a new mark, making it relatively straightforward to date a piece of Capodimonte porcelain. There are three main marks associated with the maker during its main years of production:
1745 to 1759: The Original Mark Under King Charles III
This mark took the form of a fleur-de-lys, rendered typically in blue or gold, with the curve of the lateral petals often exaggerated to take the form of a “C” (perhaps in homage to Charles himself).
1759-1770: Buen Retiro Period Under King Charles III
Perhaps for continuity, maker’s marks from this period also take the form of a blue fleur-de-lys, with the lateral petals appearing more symmetrically rounded and the overall form seeming more streamlined. One can imagine that this similarity to the earlier mark might have been desired to convey a sense of continuity despite the relocation of the Capodimonte workshop to Madrid.
1770-between 1806 and 1834: Fabbrica Reale at Portici under King Ferdinand VI
Eliminating the fleur-de-lys motif, this mark takes the form of a capital “N,” signifying Naples, over top of which rests a crown with five points.
It is important to note that later marks – similar to yet more stylized than this third and final mark – do exist from the years in which the remnants of the Capodimonte workshop were absorbed into other studios. The focus on these three marks here, however, is owed to the fact that they are associated with the most coveted, museum-quality pieces of Capodimonte porcelain today.
Capodimonte Porcelain Figurines
The legacy of Capodimonte porcelain figurines traces back to the factory’s earliest days. Following the success of early miniatures, Capodimonte artists began making figurines that were incredibly popular among collectors for their quaint narratives and meticulous craftsmanship. Very often, the subjects of these figurines were drawn from Neapolitan culture, from peasants and street merchants to characters like Pulcinella taken from the popular theatrical genre known as commedia dell’arte.
Capodimonte Porcelain Tea and Coffee Services
Capodimonte porcelain takes pride of place among the many splendid antique tea and coffee services collectors can explore on the market today. These sets often pair marvelous miniature scenes with rich floral motifs, including one of the more popular botanical themes of fiori coreani, or eastern style floral patterns. Some have rumored that such an abundance of flora in Capodimonte designs was owed to King Charles, who was purportedly so allergic to fresh blooms that such painted variations were all he could enjoy. Regardless of whether there is truth in that tale, it is safe to say that collectors who acquire a Capodimonte porcelain tea or coffee service are sure to be delighted with the incredible blossoms on view.
Capodimonte Dinner Services
Capodimonte also fashioned dinner services, with one of the most historic being that ordered by King Ferdinand in the early 1780s. This set, which was designed as a gift for his father, Capodimonte founder Charles III, featured images inspired by the art discovered in recent excavations at the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum (covered, along with Pompeii, in the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in the first century). Mostly partial sets can be found on the market today, and many hail from a much more modern era, but they nevertheless exude the same opulence as their antique brethren.
Capodimonte Porcelain Vases, Urns, and Other Porcelain Decorative Objects
Perhaps the most splendid Capodimonte creations are the various decorative objects that emerged from the workshop. From the delicate forms of Capodimonte porcelain candelabra to the bold bounty of ornately decorated urns and vases, these splendid porcelain specimens make for an ideal showcase. Many Capodimonte vases reveal the rich coloring and intricate designs for which the maker is known; one can, however, also find brilliant examples in the porcellana bianca style, where the pristine finish of each vessel accents the various details, like vining flowers, that decorate the surface.
Picking the Perfect Capodimonte Porcelain
The fascinating history of Capodimonte porcelain only adds to the maker’s beauty, which is why the appearance of extraordinary pieces on the market can lead to sales far above auction expectations. Smaller pieces and sets can also be found that still demonstrate the impressive quality for which Capodimonte porcelain is known, so use this guide as your springboard as you set yourself on course to find your next Capodimonte treasure.
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