The shape of this extremely rare, if not unique, coffee-pot probably copies a European silver or faience form. Although closely related to an armorial service made for the Portuguese market in circa 1740, of which more later, a few examples of non-armorial wares are recorded. They are mostly decorated in this unusual palette and several variations in the patterns can be found. In addition to this coffee-pot, there is a teacaddy and cover of this design in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (c:90 & A-1963), so it would appear that a tea and coffee service was ordered in addition to a dinner service.
A wine-cooler from the Collection of F. Cini, in the Pinacoteca Capitolina in Roma, has an almost identical design to the present lot (see Alessandra Mottola Molfino, L'Arte della Porcelana in Italia, 1976, no. 10, where it is erroneously described as Vezzi porcelain). A pair of identical wine-coolers is illustrated by A. du Boulay, Christie's Pictorial History of Chinese Ceramics, Oxford, 1984, p. 283, fig. 13; and another, single wine-cooler was sold, Sotheby's London, 20 June 2001, lot 389, together with two pairs of tazze of similar design as lots 390 and 391. A composite dinner service, showing many of the variations in the patterns, was sold Sotheby's London, 16 May 1995, lots 180 - 188, amongst which the largest pair of tureens and covers, lot 180, is of very similar design to the present lot. Two tureens and covers modelled standing on four claw and ball feet and lavishly decorated with a related design were exhibited China Trade Porcelain, China Institute in America, 1973, catalogue no. 32, p. 47, where Clare Le Corbeiller explains that the form of the tureens, and especially the feet, are close to models used by Du Paquier (1718-44) at his factory in Vienna. (see J. F. Hayward, Viennese Porcelain of the Du Paquier Period, 1950, pl. 70, and pl. 18 for a wine-cooler with similar handles to the tureens). M. Beurdeley illustrates a tureen, cover and stand from one of the related services, which is in the Medeiros e Almeida Collection, Lisbon, in Porcelain of the East India Companies, London, 1962, fig. 59, p. 83, where he suggests that this tureen was inspired by the wares of Alcora, after designs by Bérain.
Very closely related to this coffee-pot is the second of three Chinese services bearing the coat-of-arms of Dom José Ribeiro da Fonseca Figueiredo e Sousa, who was appointed Bishop of Oporto in 1739 (see N. de Castro, Chinese Porcelain and the Heraldry of the Empire, Oporto, 1988, pp. 87 - 89). The shape of the pieces in all three services also copy silver or faience forms and it is interesting to observe that on either side of the spout of the coffee-pot in this lot there is the profile of a human head painted onto a yellow dragon-like motif. This very unusual motif is also evident, although not as obviously, amongst the border decoration on this second armorial service (ibid. p. 88). The handles of the tureens and wine-coolers in all three services, as well as those on the non-armorial services, are variously modelled as human heads. Several examples of the Fonseca service are in the Museo Civico d'Arte Antica in Turin, where until recently they were attributed to the Venetian factory of Vezzi (active 1720-1727). However, the Museum has now amended their attribution to Chinese, and dated them to circa 1740. The Turin examples are illustrated by Molfino, op.cit., nos. 9, 11 and 12, and colour plate I.