EIGHTEENTH CENTURY PORCELAIN

The collection of porcelains

Porcelain is perhaps the material that best embodies the spirit of the Rococo style. Its use during the 18th century is so inherent in this style that it could be said that one justifies the other. Close-grained, translucent and lightweight, porcelain lends itself naturally to the creation of those objects with elaborate, dynamic forms impossible to achieve with the materials known hitherto. For a long time a well-guarded secret of Chinese manufacturers, it was recreated in Europe in the second decade of the eighteenth century at the court of Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and king of Poland, and from there it gradually spread throughout Europe, in spite of the enormous efforts to protect the formula of this highly coveted material.

Right from the beginning, porcelain was used for decorative purposes to make figures and vases of graceful fragility, and soon found its natural expression in luxury table services, accompanying the kind of reform that was taking the culinary world by storm in the same period. On aristocratic tables wealth was no longer flaunted through the monumental courses that identify pomp as plain abundance, but with tasty, dainty food with a more delicate texture. The new food style, imported from France, multiplied the number of courses, reduced serving size, presenting food on smaller, fragile, delicate tableware, continuously changed throughout the meal. The raging fashion for exotic drinks like tea, chocolate, coffee led to the creation of specialised wares intended for the enjoyment of those rare-tasting brews away from the main meals.

Cultural practices evolved along the same lines: the table was no longer just a place where to eat and make merry but the center of the exchange of ideas and dialectic. In the society of the Enlightenment, cups, teapots, milk jugs or chocolate pots were the essential tools of a civilization based on conversation and manners in which royals mixed with adventurers and renowned intellectuals: a more modern society was born.

From the stylistic point of view, porcelain objects reflect changes in fashion and taste better than any other ware. Their decoration is extremely varied. The early floral patterns or oriental motifs soon gave way to rocaille elements, gallant scenes, pastoral landscapes, the inevitable heraldic crests and coats of arms, and especially to chinoiserie, the focal point for eighteenth-century table decoration.

Ca’ Rezzonico houses an important selection of porcelains providing an overview of almost all major European manufacturers, from the famous Meissen factory to Sèvres and Vienna. The core of the collection is most obviously represented by the local production: Vezzi and Cozzi in Venice, Antonibon in Bassano. After a long time much of this collection is now visible in the Spinet Room, at the second floor of the Museum.