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Meissen Porcelain as Diplomatic Gift

Meissen porcelain emblazoned with the arms of Don Luigi e BranciforteReverse side of the Meissen porcelainTeacup emblazoned with the arms of Don Luigi e Branciforte

This little tea bowl and its matching two-handled chocolate cup of Meissen porcelain in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford bear eloquent witness to an important type of luxury goods that travelled south from Dresden to Naples, thanks to the marriage in 1738 of Maria Amalia, Princess of Saxony (1724-1760), and Carlo VII, King of the Two Sicilies, from 1759 Carlos III, King of Spain (1716-1788). The bowl and the cup were made in Meissen just outside Dresden and emblazoned there with the coat of arms of Don Luigi Reggio e Branciforte, the prince of Campflorido. Campoflorido was the Spanish ambassador to Venice and was a key figure in the marriage negotiations and in the discussions relating to the journey of Maria Amalia to her new home. He also offered hospitality to Friedrich Christian, Maria Amalia’s brother, when he stayed in Venice in 1740. Friedrich Christian had accompanied his sister to Naples in 1738 and stayed on in Italy for two years in total and the porcelain was a thank-you gift for services rendered.

Why were these objects being sent from the little town of Meissen, just outside Dresden, the capital of Saxony? Because it was in Saxony that the secret of how to make hard-paste porcelain, known to the Chinese for centuries, had been discovered. Maria Amalia’s grandfather, August the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, had set an alchemist called Johann Friedrich Böttger to make gold, assisted by the scientist Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus. They did not succeed in making gold, but in 1708 discovered how to make porcelain, and a factory was set up in Meissen in 1710. The delicate porcelain services and figures, created by this secret process and hand-painted and gilded, were often used as diplomatic gifts, as here.

When, in 1738 at the tender age of thirteen and a half, Maria Amalia travelled south to meet her new husband, she brought her own Meissen tea and chocolate service with her, gilded inside and emblazoned with the combined coats of arms of Saxony/Poland and Naples/Sicily. At another important time in her life, in 1747, when, at her sixth pregnancy she finally succeeded in bearing a male heir, her parents sent her from Dresden a beautiful green porcelain service, decorated again with the combined coat of arms and with scenes taken from Watteau’s paintings.

Perhaps in emulation of the famous Meissen porcelain, Carlo founded his own porcelain factory in Naples in 1745, near his new palace of Capodimonte. He only managed to make soft-paste porcelain but nonetheless Maria Amalia had a whole room decorated with it in another of the couple’s palaces at Portici, outside Naples. When Carlo succeeded his father as king of Spain in 1759, he closed down the Capodimonte factory and brought all the materials with him to Spain where, near his palace of Buen Retiro, he founded a new factory which again took the name of the palace.

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