Artisan Entomologists: Stories from the Porcelain Manufactories of Europe

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Abstract Summary
In the eighteenth century, European porcelain became a critical site for the study of insects. Its pristine, white body made it ideally suited for capturing the incandescent colors of the rapidly growing number of both “local” and “exotic” species. Meanwhile the smooth, rounded forms of most porcelain wares (i.e. cups, saucers, tea- and coffeepots) allowed for the easy illustration of the different stages in the lifecycle of insects. The stories that have been told about these illustrations have been largely ones of reproduction, as scholars have searched for the graphic sources of the images in question. Their efforts reveal that painters at manufactories like the one at Meissen—the first to produce “true” or hard-paste porcelain in Europe—were aware of the work of earlier interpreters of the insect world, such as Jacob Hoefnagel and Maria Sibylla Merian. They do not, however, account for why entire table services were decorated with insects, as is the case with the “bee pattern” service made at the Meissen manufactory beginning in the 1740s. Nor do they explain why by the middle of the nineteenth century many porcelain painters were listed in the relevant sources as entomologists (Entomologen). As I will argue, the making of porcelain and the study of insects became increasingly intertwined over the course of the eighteenth century, as princely and private cabinets were opened to painters and modelers in the hopes of inspiring them in their designs. By such means the first communities of “artisan entomologists” took flight.
Abstract ID :
HSS779
Submission Type
Abstract Topic
Chronological Classification :
18th century
Self-Designated Keywords :
Art, Entomology, Transfer, Images, Collections

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