These remarkable figures graced an important room in the grand baroque villa of an aristocratic family on the outskirts of Rome. Built in the first decades of the 18th century by an influential Cardinal and his brothers, the hilltop villa was known for its commanding views of the picturesque countryside.
The size of these figures, their fine quality modeling and their composition as two couples set them apart from any published examples. A small group of very large-scale famille rose figures of either maidens or boys were made in the first decades of the Qianlong period; those with nodding heads are rarer still. A very large (41 inches), single, nodding head maiden was sold Christie's New York, 22 March 1999 and is now in the RA Collection (op cit, p 334-5); a single nodding head nobleman of the present size was in the Ionides Collection (M. Jourdain & R.S. Jenyns, Chinese Export Art, p 110). Chinese export models of couples are rare and almost exclusively Western, like the well-known large-scale Dutch couple and models of Louis XV and his mistress, or the unusual candleholder couple in the Peabody Essex Museum (W.R.Sargent, The Copeland Collection, pp 136-7).
This monumental set must have represented a very special commission, inspired perhaps by the very large blanc de chine nodding head maidens that were among the very first visual representations of the Chinese court to reach Europe. At a time when Chinese porcelain represented the height of exoticism and luxury, these figures must have made an enormous impression on the Roman elite.