Lectures are in the ArtsHouse: 10.45 for morning members: 13.30 for afternoon members.
Thursday 19 October 2017
Music, Masquerades and Monkeys
Speaker: Jane Gardiner
Jane Gardiner’s lecture traced social history through 18th century porcelain figurines. Little figures which were made out of sugar were interspersed on the great tables in Germany to enhance dessert courses. Meissen recognised that these figures could be made out of porcelain and then lit by candlelight in such a way that the sparkle of the glaze and the brilliance of the colours brought the figures to life.
Kandler, who trained as a stone sculptor, was brought to the Saxon court to make large sets of figures to enhance the Elector of Saxony’s banqueting tables. Commedia D’ell Arte figures translated well into this environment. The Harlequin, with his traditional patch work costume and animated, exaggerated movements was easily recognisable and all the figures interacted with each other on the table as if in a play. They were small and three dimensional so they could be seen in the round. Porcelain is very difficult to craft as each piece is made individually and was not stable so many figurines had to be depicted leaning against tree stumps which became part of the design. Eventually, these figurines were sold separately as the dinner tables were not large enough to accommodate a whole set. The figure making techniques spread throughout Europe.
In England, porcelain makers looked to Meissen for inspiration but often used etchings as patterns. Exotic figures from abroad such as those made by the Derby factory reflected society’s fascination with distant lands which they did not have any actual knowledge of. We laughed at the very thin German depiction of Buddha! One picture showed a figurine of a wet nurse with a baby in swaddling clothes; reflecting society’s attitude to child rearing at the time. People had a fascination with monkeys at this time so monkeys were produced in different types of outfits. Society gradually wanted these figures for house decorations so larger ones were made which were flat at the back to go against a wall. One larger piece showed a music lesson.
French paintings were used as inspirations, as were political issues at the time. Figures in court dress were produced as well as beggars. Some pieces had hidden meanings such as a lady shown holding a pug dog meaning she was a female member of the Freemasons.