Kangxi Cup

Domestic or Continental market
Circa 1700-1720
Reference #: P7225

French, possibly St. Cloud, circa 1720

Applied gold foil and enameled decoration

Height: 2 13/16 inches (7.1 cm.)
Diameter: 3 inches (7.6 cm.)

The present piece is a fascinating example of the high esteem in which Chinese porcelains were held in the West. The white porcelain cup, exported from China, was embellished soon after in Europe with the extravagant gold and enameled applied design. The remarkably quality of Chinese porcelains had long been admired in the Near East and the West, very long before Europeans had the knowledge to make the precious material. As early as the sixteenth century, white Chinese porcelains were being embellished in the West with lavish gold mounts, sometimes also inset with semi-precious stones.1In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Dutch, in particular, were fond of mounting blue and white porcelains with silver and gold mounts, and the fashion quickly spread throughout Europe.

The present cup is quite unusual, as the delicate gold foil is affixed to the porcelain as opposed to simply painted on. Embellished with fine repousse enamels, the light-hearted scene depicts a European gentleman in pursuit of a young maid and another man actually “catching” the lady of his pursuit. On the opposite side, a monkey dressed in court clothes sits on the steps of a tall architectural façade as a cat dressed in an apron approaches on its two hind legs bearing a pyramid of fruit.

The gold foil decoration, embellished with glass-like enamels, is very finely crafted and can also be found on porcelains made at the St. Cloud factory in the early part of the eighteenth century.3The process of gold foil decoration was known in Europe by the end of the seventeenth century and also applied to enamels and glass.4 Some references in the St. Cloud inventories suggest that the gold foil was actually produced and applied there. However, this type of ware is not successively inventoried, which seems unusual for such a rich and expensive product, creating the possibility it was actually added somewhere else. The existence of the gold foil decoration on Chinese wares, such as the present piece, and on other European porcelains, makes it unclear whether the decoration was applied at St. Cloud or at some other Parisian workshop. It is also difficult to ascertain from whence came the inspiration for the gilt foil scenes. The continuous narratives on the present piece and on many of the St. Cloud porcelains, although not Chinese in subject, certainly retain a particular chinoiserie style. The French artisans may have received direct inspiration from Chinese wares that were easily available to them at that time, or they may have also have been influenced by chinoiserie decorated wares made at Meissen. In the early eighteenth century, white Böttger porcelains were decorated with gilt chinoiserie scenes silhouetted against the white porcelain. Additionally, gold decoration executed by Hausmalers (independent enamelers and gilders) on Meissen porcelains could have also influenced the French gold foil designs. Another theory suggests that the famous silversmith and enameler Christoph Konrad Hunger, may have introduced the technique to the French.9Until further evidence surfaces, however, the exact origins of the gold foil decoration will remain obscure.

Regardless of exactly where the work was done, the craftsmanship of the applied decoration on this cup is exceptional. The European artisan was able to transform a simple, white porcelain vessel into a gem-like work of art. The combination of the chinoiserie style with the frivolous European characters is a fascinating testament to the interaction of fashions, tastes and ideology between China and Europe.

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