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AIMING HIGH: PORCELAIN, SÈVRES AND THE GRAND VASE

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Abstract:

This essay aims to explore the manifold ways in which the creation of the Grand Vase articulated different but mutually reinforcing ideas of ‘greatness’ in French manufacture in the 1770s and 1780s. Technologically speaking, it aimed to demonstrate by its scale and the vivid perfection of its blue glaze both the mastery of hard paste (and therefore a decisive break with and progress from the manufactory's past) and its perpetuation of those qualities, particularly of colour, that had distinguished and established the reputation of its soft paste wares. However, at a time when the Government was increasingly reluctant to use privileges or patents to secure trading advantages, even for its own royal manufactories, increasingly design became the means by which technological innovation was promoted as a selling point. The vase was no exception. It reproduced, though with significant variation, the antique Medici Vase, greatly admired in France since the seventeenth century when Colbert commissioned copies for Versailles. It thus demonstrated porcelain's potential as a sculptural medium to vie with the antique, and articulated d'Angiviller's ambition for a renaissance of the grand siècle. The history of the conceptualization and production of this work challenges the long-established view of the royal manufactories as conservative: hostile to technical, design and commercial innovation.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8365.2008.00638.x

Affiliations: Waddesdon Manor

Publication date: November 1, 2008

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