Ganymede and the Eagle is a classic Greek myth, where the beautiful youth was taken to Mount Olympus by a giant eagle, said to be Zeus in disguise: certainly it was Zeus who secured the services of the young mortal, as he became his cup-bearer. In the depiction seen here, he holds an eagle chick above his head while the large eagle at his side looks on.
This interesting classical figure shows the distinct signs of an Italian origin for the porcelain; dense grey-white body with a slight sugary texture, and an uncrazed glaze containing tin oxide which gives it a glistening, white appearance.
The figure is attributed to Doccia, which is usually recognisable due to its grey body. However, this figure shows the later ‘superior’ body of Doccia, which was combined with an opaque tin-glaze in an effort to create a pure white in the tradition of Meissen, from around 1770-90.
The group is very classical, which brings to mind the neo-classical interest of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. However, being Italian, it is not that simple; the classical world was well known from the Renaissance, and this is where this figure comes from: the Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571). We were excited to discover his original marble work, standing just over a meter high, in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. Several smaller bronze versions are known, one in the Frick Collection , NY, and another in the Metropolitan, NY. Comparing the figures leaves little doubt that the sculptor for this Doccia version had a close association with one of these versions, or perhaps with the original itself. The Doccia works were within easy reach of Florence, where the Cellini original still resides.
Other Renaissance influences are recorded for Doccia figures. There was, before WWII, a museum in 6 rooms attached to the factory, containing reduced statues of many ancient and Renaissance works; Michelangelo, Pietro Tacca, and Bernini to name a few. The factory owner, Carolo Ginori, commissioned an agent in Rome with the sole purpose of obtaining casts of antique statues, which accumulated in the Galleria of Doccia.
These acted as inspiration for the sculptors of the factory, and some large sculptural works were made; one turned up in Bonhams, London, and fetched the astonishing price of $1.2 million Australian dollars in 2011: it was a version of a classical antiquity, the Farnese Hercules. A Moorish Slave figure in white (National Museum, Stockholm) is taken from a part of a monument by Pietro Tacca, 1623-6. The moulded panels on tablewares and tea wares (often referred to as ‘Cappadimonte’ in error, as they were made at Doccia, not Capodimonte) – have their origin in a series of Italian bronze plaquettes. A set of seasons were produced from original figures in ivory, which were documented as being by the Bavarian sculptor Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732).
This figure of Ganymede shows the quality Doccia was able to produce; gone is the grey paste and dull glaze of the early days, and in this bright white body, with a skin of opaque tin-glaze enclosing it further, the figure takes on a life of its own: brighter and more detailed than any marble could ever be, given life by the very nature of the porcelain and the way it refracts the light that chances on it.
No other example of this figure could be found in the literature, or public collection available. There is a Marcolini Meissen version, circa 1790, seen here in an example in the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, but I think you’ll agree it lacks the drama of this earlier Doccia version.
This Doccia figure will appear as a part of our 2014 ‘Recent Acquisitions’ Exhibition, due to open on Saturday the 12th April 2014.