Inspired by the Muses
When in the late 18th and early 19th Century excavations in Southern Italy, Greece and Turkey started to reveal the long forgotten ancient history of the Etruscans, Romans and Greeks, this was very inspiring to people in Northern Europe. After many centuries of dominance of the Christian Church, this was a whole new world opening up. Here was a world full of gods and goddesses who were full of life, flawed, and passionate (and much of the time up to no good!) like humans. People started digging out the ancient myths that had been stacked away in books for centuries, and they inspired a new way of thinking.
Part of this was a new aesthetic that was, like the ancient Classical aesthetic, simple yet refined. This was refreshing after the ever-more-lavish decorations that people had become used to.
And so, moralistic stories about the Christian Saints gave way to the exciting and slightly bonkers myths of the classical era. With it came the Neo-classical style of course, and this was reflected in the beautiful teaware of that era!
Today I am showing a wonderful tea/coffee service made by New Hall - more or less - in about 1815. I am saying more or less as it is clear that the cups and saucers were made by New Hall, but the coffee pot on a stand, with sucrier and milk jug, were made by an unknown contemporary of New Hall in the same style. It is possible that the cups were sold originally with this coffee pot set - which by the way is excellent for tea as well.
The set is beautifully decorated with bat-printed black and white images that are often called the "Black Infants" pattern. Although there indeed seem to be a lot of infants, in fact they are the Muses, the Cardinal Values and the Ages of Man, which all feature in the classical literature. These images are after a series of famous images by Adam Buck, which were used liberally in the decorative arts of that time.
The Nine Muses are the daughters of Zeus, who inspire the arts; the Cardinal Values are Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, the basic values as outlined in Roman literature; and the Ages of Man actually related to historical periods, but were often interpreted as stages in a human life.
On this beautiful service you can see the Muses: Study (a woman and child writing at a desk); Memory (a woman testing a child while keeping a book just out of sight); The Proclaimer (a woman orating from a scroll); and Song (a woman playing the lyre, a woman and child playing the harp, and the piano);
There are two Cardinal Values: Temperance (a woman and child with a chariot, the woman being bridled by the child) and Fortitude (a woman and child playing badminton, which in the early 19th Century was seen as suitable form of exercise for ladies);
and, finally, the Ages: childhood (a baby playing with a tambourine held up by a woman, another one of a woman and child on a play horse); adult life (a scene of two young parents and a child in what seems to be an intimate conversation) and old age (an old man under a tree).
This wonderful set has had its wear but it is still in good usable condition, and wonderful on display!
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Do you want to find out about the history of British porcelain? You can follow my monthly column in Homes & Antiques, and you can order a free copy here; it contains an interview with myself alongside 5 other collectors. The magazine is delivered all over the world.
Where to find things
I have many tea services available and you can find them here. I keep adding new items to my shop every week and you can find all available items here. If you always want to see the latest additions, follow me on Instagram... I post pictures and a story every single day.
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Happy weekend, and let yourself be inspired by the Muses! 🏺🏛️🏺
This week's new treasures: