The collection and display of Chinese porcelain, both in Britain and on the continent, acted as a social signifier of taste, status and sensibility – significantly figuring in interior decoration of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Greatly accumulated and emulated, porcellena, from the Italian was held in high esteem and revered as a precious object, with examples from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries mounted in gilt to enhance this coveted quality.
Porcelain from Jingdezhen, dating to the Wanli reign (1573-1629) British (London), mounts ca. 1585, H. 13 5/8 in (34.6 cm). Porcelain and silver-gilt. Rogers Fund, 1944. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
In the 16th century, traders from Portugal imported late Ming porcelains in blue and white to Europe, flowering under the Kraak porcelain trade. The tides turned when the Dutch captured twin Portuguese carracks in 1602 and 1604: The cargo of San Yago and Santa Cararina in porcelain was issued in auction across Europe, attracting buyers who boasted the Kings of England and France in their ranks.
In their wake, European trade with the Far East sprung, notably the Dutch East India Company bringing in Chinese export valuables. Trade became more nuanced, with private traders shipping to accommodate the elite taste for pieces that would become highly prized possessions, rooted firmly in their provenance.
William Hogarth, ‘Tate in High Life’, England, 1746, paper print, V&A, Museum no. F118:129
The china-houses of London fostered conspicuous consumption, collating porcelain wares in the New Exchange, a fashionable shopping district established in 1609. Export branched into the realms of tea wares and dinner services, adhering to the popular trends and fashions of the 18th century.
This business card from about 1764 reads, “William Hussey, China and Glass Man, In Coventry Street, Piccadilly, London. Sells all Sorts of China, Glass and Stone Ware; Likewise Japan Dressing Boxes for Ladies Toilets with Variety of India Fans &c. &c. Wholesale and Retail. N.B. The above Goods for Exportation.” – Wikipedia
Chinese porcelain garnered merit from its origins in the natural and artistic worlds as a curiosity and also the prestige found in its sensual appeal; attached as an exotic novelty and reflected accordingly in its luxury pricing.
This concern with quality made its positioning paramount: The massing of porcelain objects, a phenomenon especially staged in the homes of the wealthy, necessitated decorative schemes which were in the service of status display…
To learn about Augustus II’s porcelain collection in The Japanese Palace at the height of the Baroque decorative arts, follow this link
To read about the ties between porcelain and temperance in Victorian England, take a peak here
Ganse, Shirley, Chinese Porcelain: An Export to the World (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 2008).
Le Corbeiller, Clare China Trade Porcelain: Patterns of Exchange (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1974).
Manners, Errol, ’Oriental Influences on 18th century Polychrome Decoration on the Porcelain of Italy and France’, European Porcelain [n.d], http://www.europeanporcelain.com/public/ Oriental_Influences_on_Italian_and_French_Ceramics.pdf [accessed 10 February 2016].
Munger, Jeffrey and A. C. Frelinghuysen, ‘East and West: Chinese Export Porcelain’, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Online [October 2003], https:// http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ewpor/hd_ewpor.htm [accessed 08 February 2016].
Porter, David, The Chinese Taste in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge: University Press, 2010).
Volker, T., Porcelain and the Dutch East India Company (Brill Archive, 1954).
White, Matthew, ‘The rise of consumerism’, British Library Online [n.d.], http://www.bl.uk/ romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-rise-of-consumerism [accessed 02 February 2016].