History of Italian Capodimonte Lamps

Italian Capodimonte Lamp History article by Jim Hoyle

My Italian brother in law Carlo, frequently says that all things good and beautiful originate in Italy (ha!). He may have a right to feel that way since he was born and raised on a farm near Rimini, Italy. I agree with him on at least one point and that is the unparalleled beauty of genuine antique Italian Capodimonte porcelain lamps.

Capodimonte is the finest grade of Italian porcelain that rivals any of the finest porcelains that are produced. Themes range from simple nature and garden designs to downright outrageous. For my taste, I say the more outrageous the better ! This is just one quality that makes Capodimonte so unique. Whenever I look at these beautiful old pieces I cannot help but think of how these designers shrugged off convention to develop this unusual and outstanding style. You either love it or you hate it but the identity and the design style is unmistakable.

The more ornately designed Capodimonte lamps may be adorned with 3 dimensional cherubs, angels, nudes, animals, serpents, people, mythical creatures and vegetation. Occasionally the 3 dimensional figures are completely raised away from the main body of the porcelain creating an open space. These styles are highly sought after by collectors. Porcelain colors can be unusually vibrant and very bold. The finer quality Capodimonte pieces contain many subtle details in the artwork and in the hand painting. The 18th century master sculptor Tagliolini exemplifies the finer qualities found in many of the Capodimonte styles.

Translation of "Capodimonte": Italian: capo di monte, English: head of the mountain or as my brother in law Carlo says: "captain of the mountain". Although "captain of the mountain" is not the precise translation, it is the translation that I like because this beautiful porcelain style certainly commands your attention and respect.

The Capodimonte story is very complex and convoluted. So in order to simplify, I am presenting the important related events in the following timeline format.

1710: Augustus II, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (now in Germany) founded the first European porcelain factory in Meissen Germany, near Dresden, both now world famous for their fine porcelain.

1734: Charles of Bourbon (Bourbon was a European royal family) was the son of Philip V (the 1st Bourbon ruler of Spain) and his wife, Elizabeth Farnese (Italian). Charles was coronated King of Naples and Sicily.

1738: Charles married Maria Amalia granddaughter of Augustus II who had previously in 1710 founded Europe's first porcelain factory in Meissen Germany. From his marriage to Maria, Charles became interested in porcelain production in Naples. He wanted to create a porcelain quality that would rival that of Maria's grandfather (Augustus II).

1743: Charles built a small porcelain factory on a hill named Capodimonte near his royal palace. Charles finally decided that porcelain production was not feasible in his small facility and he ordered the building of a new porcelain factory in the royal wood of Capodimonte.

1759: Philip V of Spain died and Charles became Charles III King of Spain and of course had to leave Naples. Before leaving he had the Royal Factory dismantled and moved equipment, inventory and artists with him to Spain. He wanted to keep his recipe of porcelain a secret and he started a new porcelain factory near Madrid.

1771: Ferdinand (Charles's son) assumed his father's throne becoming Ferdinand IV king of Naples. He was also interested in porcelain production so he started a new porcelain factory at Portici from the equipment and supplies that had been left there by his father Charles when he left for Spain.

1772: Production began in Ferdinand's new porcelain factory. The style and quality from this factory were similar to that of the original factory that was begun by his father Charles. Charles appointed Perez as the director of the Royal Factory.

1779: Domenico Venuti replaced Perez as director of the factory.

1781: Venuti created the Academy of the Nude whose main goal was the study of the nude figure. Production at the factory was at its all time greatest height and the porcelain from the Royal Factory had become famous throughout Europe.

1782: Ferdinand had a special porcelain dinner service produced as a gift for his father, Charles III of Spain, who was the founder of the original Capodimonte factory. The gift was received very coldly by his father.

1785: Ferdinand had another special porcelain dinner service produced as a gift for George III, King of England. The king was overwhelmed upon receiving such a beautiful gift.

1799: France invaded Naples and Ferdinand fled to Sicily leaving Naples and the porcelain factory. The factory was looted by the French and it fell into great disrepair.

July 1799: French rule ended. Ferdinand returned to Naples and attempted to get the Royal Factory back on good footing.

1799 - 1805: The Royal Factory continued in business although the production had been greatly reduced..

1806: The French occupied Naples yet again and Ferdinand was again forced to return to Palermo. Giuseppe Bonaparte was named King of Naples.

1807: The French had no interest in maintaining the royal factory and they turned over the responsibility of the porcelain factory to a group of local businessmen.

1808 French commander, Gioacchino Murat became King of Naples replacing Giuseppe Bonaparte.

1816: Ferdinand again returned to Naples in 1816 as Ferdinand I King of the Two Sicilies.

1818: The Royal Factory never recovered from the French occupations and their lootings. Business had been in a decline for many years. The equipment, inventory and supplies were sold off to various individuals and businesses thus marking the end of the Royal Factory of Capodimonte.

1818 Forward: Capodimonte style porcelain is still produced by a number of manufacturers in Italy. This fractured nature of current Capodimonte origin finds its basis in the Royal Factory sell off that occurred in 1818. There is not a single factory or region where this style originates today. The Capodimonte "trademark" is not protected and is used in various forms by many different contemporary companies.

1920's Forward: It has long been a common practice to take vases and other porcelain objects and add bases, caps and the other necessary hardware to make them into lamps. This practice was especially popular in the 1920's when the electric lamp started to become popular and the availability of electricity was becoming widespread. Often the porcelain base would be drilled with a hole to allow a hollow rod to be used which would hold the lamp base, cap, etc. together as well as to conceal the electrical cord. Capodimonte porcelain was very popular at that time and many of the vases were turned into lamps during this period.

The goal of the artists and craftsmen at the original Royal Factory in Naples was to design beautiful very high quality porcelain that would rival the greatest European porcelains, specifically German. That successful legacy is exemplified by this very fine Capodimonte style lamp. The ornate porcelain style is indicative of genuine vintage Italian Capodimonte. The base and feet of the porcelain are very unusual and ornate. I am not aware of any other companies that have these qualities other than genuine vintage Italian Capodimonte.


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