Sèvres Ceramic Bowl
Featuring a gilded floral pattern atop a green celadon ground, this large porcelain bowl is an outstanding example of orientalising innovations in 19th-century European luxury arts. Described in the Sèvres 1850 sales register as a “jatte chinoise,” the shape of this bowl was likely based on Chinese examples. It stands upon a tall foot bearing a bright blue band with a small motif of rosettes alternating with sprouting leaves. The same frieze is repeated just beneath the wide rim of the bowl. A pale green celadon ground on the exterior wall highlights the primary decorative scheme, consisting of a floral pattern featuring large rosettes on thin, curved stems, smaller flower buds and tulips shown in profile, and a variety of leaves. This design is executed in white and blue with gilded accents, as well as slip-decorated elements in low relief. On the reverse, the bowl bears two red circular “R.F.” (République Française) marks used on Sèvres decorated wares, as well as two green lozenge marks, all of which are dated “S. 50” (Sèvres 1850).
The Sèvres Imperial Manufactory, originally founded by French King Louis XV, was the preeminent producer of European luxury porcelain throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The factory was often at the forefront of innovations in porcelain production and changing tastes, particularly throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. It was so prominent, in fact, that it had its own display in the French pavilion at the Great Exhibition of 1851, held in London by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to showcase the finest examples of industry and design from around the world. This bowl seems to have been exhibited in the Sèvres display and is visible in the centre background of the watercolour “The Great Exhibition: the Sèvres Court” by James Roberts, currently in the Royal Collection Trust (RCIN 919987). It is possible that the bowl was specially produced for the Great Exhibition as a prime example of France’s cutting-edge ceramic production and design at the time.
The bowl’s decorative scheme was undoubtedly inspired by floral motifs found on Islamic ceramics, particularly those found on the Iznik plates, bowls, and tiles of the Ottoman Empire. The slender curved stems, large, stylised rosettes, and serrated leaves (known as saz) found on this bowl are all hallmarks of the Iznik visual language, here rendered in a colour palette and production technique more representative of the European tradition. The trade of luxury goods between European powers and the Islamic world had long impacted European modes of design and production, a phenomenon that reached new heights in the nineteenth century with the development of European industry. Expositions such as that held in London in 1851 featured displays from the countries of the ‘Orient,’ including Ottoman Turkey, containing fine examples of their decorative arts. This helped to fuel the European taste for Islamic and Asian designs and encouraged their incorporation in European luxury products. Incorporating European, Ottoman, and Chinese design elements and having been showcased as one of the finest examples of modern French production at a ground-breaking international exhibition, this bowl is a truly exceptional manifestation of the cross-cultural artistic dialogue that flourished in nineteenth-century Europe.
Sèvres, Manufacture et musée nationaux (MNC12371)
Link to the watercolour: https://www.rct.uk/collection/919987/the-great-exhibition-the-segravevres-court