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Figure

  • Place of origin:

    Meissen (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1765-1775 (made)
    1741 (modelled)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Eberlein, Johann Friedrich, born 1696 - died 1749 (modeller)
    Meissen porcelain factory (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Hard-paste porcelain, painted in enamels

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Captain H. B. Murray

  • Museum number:

    C.2559-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 3, case CA7

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 figure, in the form of a black man naked except for a feathered headdress and skirt, represents America. The companion figure of a man represents Africa. They were origiginally modelled by J.F. Eberlein in 1741, who recorded that he modelled male and female 'Moors ... standing by a sugar box.' The bowls they stand next to could have been used for both sugar and dry sweetmeats served during the dessert course of a grand meal. This pair of figures were originally intended for table centrepieces from which no other Continents are known.

Black Africans offered exotic associations and were a marker of luxury within European households, where many were employed, although often unpaid, as domestic staff.

Physical description

Hard-paste porcelain sugar or sweetmeat bowl (lacking cover) with figure of a standing black man, representing America. He stands, bent slightly at the waist and with his left hand holds a flower up to his left cheek. He wears a feather headdress and skirt and stands on a base supported by a tree stump next to a white bowl. One of a pair.

Place of Origin

Meissen (made)

Date

ca. 1765-1775 (made)
1741 (modelled)

Artist/maker

Eberlein, Johann Friedrich, born 1696 - died 1749 (modeller)
Meissen porcelain factory (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Hard-paste porcelain, painted in enamels

Marks and inscriptions

Crossed swords with a dot between hilts
Factory mark in blue, inside hollow base

Dimensions

Height: 168 mm, Width: 110 mm, Depth: 110 mm

Descriptive line

Sugar or sweetmeat bowl with figure of black man representing America, hard-paste porcelain painted in enamels, modelled by J. F. Eberlein in 1741, made by Meissen porcelain factory, Germany, ca. 1765-75

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Honey, W. B. Dresden china: an introduction to the study of Meissen porcelain. London: A. & C. Black, 1934, Note 201.
See Meredith Chilton et al, Fired by Passion: Vienna Baroque Porcelain of Claudius Innocentius Du Paquier, 2009, vol. 3, cat. 347-8, for a discussion of the Meissen and Vienna versions of this design

Materials

Hard paste porcelain

Techniques

Painted

Subjects depicted

Flowers (plants); Bowl; Skirts; Tree-stump; Black History; Man; Headdresses

Categories

Black History; Ceramics; Figures & Decorative ceramics; Eating

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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