In the late 18th century the traditional design of Chinese porcelain shifted to cater to Western clients. Direct American trade with the Chinese began in 1784 after the Revolutionary War, and by 1800 nearly 60 million pieces of Chinese porcelain had been imported to America. The Hammond–Harwood House collection contains more than 350 pieces of porcelain, 86% of which is Chinese export, including this decorative urn made for the Western market.
The urn has pistol handles and an acorn finial. It is made of a hard paste that was developed by the Chinese over 1000 years ago. The clay is fired at a very high temperature which creates a glassy form. Italian engraver Stefano Della Bella (1610-1664) created this urn shape when he was working for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand II de Medici (1610-1670). The model is derived from classical funerary urns, however later urns were created purely for aesthetic reasons and serve no purpose other than to delight the viewer.
Scottish-born designer Robert Adam (1728-1792) helped popularize the neoclassical style in England that influenced everything from architecture and clothing to the decorative arts. Adam and his English contemporaries were inspired by the excavations at Pompeii and trips to Italy. The Italian urn designs by Stefano Della Bella were published in England during a time scholars now refer to as “Vasemania” in the late 18th century. This classical shape was then reproduced by potter Josiah Wedgwood. The Chinese copied the Wedgwood model in their wares starting in 1790.
The shape of the urn was especially popular in American homes from 1790 to 1815, and certainly the Loockermans who lived at Hammond–Harwood House could have had a piece like this. The oval medallion frequently contained a landscape in sepia, like the one at Hammond–Harwood House, modeled after a British landscape engraving. The base of the urns was often stylized to look like faux marble.
On Saturday May 15 the Hammond–Harwood House is hosting an in person event Time for Tea: Exploring the Chinese export porcelain collection with a Traditional Tea Ceremony. We invite participants to partake in a tea ceremony with social tea and also enjoy a short curator’s talk on the Chinese export porcelain collection. This event is free and open to the public as part of our Winifred Gordon Art & Wellness Series. Space is limited so please call to reserve.
By Rachel Lovett Curator & Assistant Director