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  • Place of origin:

    Derby (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1760-1765 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Derby Porcelain factory (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Soft-paste porcelain, painted in enamels and gilded

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Lady Charlotte Schreiber

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Ceramics, Room 139, The Curtain Foundation Gallery, case 9, shelf 7

The earliest porcelain figures were made for the dessert course of grand dinners and replaced the sugar paste and wax figures made since medieval times for royal feasts. Originally intended as expressions of dynastic power and to celebrate political allegiances, allegorical themes had been introduced into these table settings by the 16th century. By the 18th century many were entirely decorative. Meissen in Germany was the first factory to make porcelain figures for the dessert. It set the sculptural conventions followed by porcelain factories elsewhere.

During the 18th century dessert was the course on which the greatest effort and expense were lavished. The food served and the fine porcelain which accompanied it reflected the wealth and good taste of the host. The increasing availability of porcelain through factories like Meissen, and sugar from the West Indies meant a greater number of people could enjoy decorative desserts.

This richly decorated figure, in the form of a kneeling black man holding a shell, was probably used for serving dessert items. The shell would have contained dry sweetmeats. Black Africans offered exotic associations and were a marker of luxury in Western European households. In the 18th century about 10,000 Africans are estimated to have been living in England, for example. Many worked as, often unpaid, domestic staff.

Physical description

Sweetmeat figure, in soft-paste porcelain, painted in enamels and slightly gilded, formed as a young black man kneeling on one knee and supporting a shell, the interior of which is painted with insects; on a rococo scrolled base

Place of Origin

Derby (made)


ca. 1760-1765 (made)


Derby Porcelain factory (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Soft-paste porcelain, painted in enamels and gilded


Height: 19.6 cm

Object history note

One of a pair with 414:187/A-1885 (Sch. I 302A)
The pair was purchased by Lady Charlotte Schreiber from Mrs Haliburton, Richmond, for £12 and ??? shillings in April 1878
Acquired as Chelsea porcelain

Descriptive line

Sweetmeat figure, in soft-paste porcelain painted in enamels and slightly gilded, Derby Porcelain Factory, Derby, ca. 1760-1765




Painted; Gilded

Subjects depicted

Woman; Insects; Negro; Shell


Black History; Ceramics; Figures & Decorative ceramics; Porcelain


Ceramics Collection

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