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The white biscuit porcelain models assembled here exhibit a collector's refined taste for sculptural white porcelain. The models were at one point exhibited in the family home, wall-mounted on brackets to form an elegant display. All the more interesting, then, that many of the pieces are rare productions by the Buen Retiro factory and its sister factories at Capodimonte and Naples.
The story of the Buen Retiro factory (1760-1808) is without parallel. In 1738, four years after he became the King of Naples, Carlo III married the Saxon Princess Maria Amalia, a granddaughter of Augustus the Strong, the founder of the Meissen porcelain factory. In 1743 Carlo founded his own porcelain factory at Capodimonte which he funded himself and viewed as his own personal property. When he became the King of Spain in 1759 he moved his court to Madrid, and was determined not to leave his porcelain factory behind. Amazingly, he took the factory with him to Spain, installing it in a former palace in the Buen Retiro park in Madrid.
The Italian potters brought everything they needed with them by sea, moving all the necessary equipment and even bringing the materials for the manufacture of the porcelain itself. Capodimonte porcelain is justly famed for its beautiful soft, creamy paste, and this was reproduced exactly at Buen Retiro in the early years. The use of imported Italian clay seems to have halted sometime in the mid 1760's, and subsequently other locally-sourced clays were employed. These produced a somewhat coarser cream-coloured body, until 1803, when the factory switched to hard-paste porcelain production.
As the potters and modellers were those who had worked in Italy, using many of the same moulds, techniques and designs, the forms as well as the material were initially almost indistinguishable from those of Capodimonte. Further confusion has been caused by the continuous use of the Bourbon badge of the fleur-de-lys as the factory marks at both factories, making it difficult to distinguish between the two productions.
The renowned modeller Giuseppe Gricci followed the factory's move from Italy to Spain. He is particularly famed for his true-to-life peasant subjects, of which there is an important example within this collection. In Spain he continued to work on important projects for the King, creating two astonishing porcelain rooms for the Royal Palaces that were even more ambitious and successful than those he had created in Italy. The porcelain room in the Palace of Aranjuez (1760-65) has a rococo chinoiserie theme, with a porcelain ceiling supporting a great chandelier, the panelled walls enclosing mirrors framed by chinoiserie figures modelled with great vivacity. The room at the palace in Madrid (1766-71) reflects a more neo-classical spirit, with architectural elements supporting cherubs and suspending drapery and garlands between urns.
The fascinating history of the Buen Retiro factory, encompassing its origin in the Capodimonte factory, the genius of Gricci, the flowering of the exuberant rococo and the progression to a more elegant neoclassicism, is most eminently illustrated by this collection.