09 October 2012

Spode and Rhinoceroses

Rome pattern, (detail), c1811

Reading a book called Clara's Grand Tour reminds me that scenes from the Grand Tour are depicted on some of Spode's blue printed patterns of the early 19th century. Spode patterns such as Caramanian, Castle, Italian and Rome became very fashionable and diners could reveal great architectural gems as they cleared their plates and serving dishes of food.

Clara, though, was not accompanying a wealthy young man furthering his education abroad; nor was she a strong-minded, well-to-do lady of independent means doing the grand tour in her own right - she was a rhinoceros! I have not gone completely mad as there is, perhaps surprisingly, a connection between Spode and rhinoceroses. Yes really...

Clara's Grand Tour by Glynis Ridley is a great read, even more so for anyone with an interest in the 18th century and, of course, rhinoceroses. Ridley makes it quite clear how unusual it was for a rhinoceros to be seen in Europe in the middle of the 1700s. There was only one and Clara was that rhinoceros. Ridley also emphasises the remarkable marketing skills of Clara's owner, Van der Meer, coupled with his ability to transport her safely from city to city and, importantly, keep her alive and well. He took her where powerful people, such as royalty and the aristocracy, would be able to see her and would pay well for the privilege. In turn this encouraged the masses to want to see her too thus driving his publicity machine. Posters were made to advertise Clara's appearances and souvenirs were produced of varying finesse to sell at different prices which included prints, medals and porcelain.

One venue Clara visited was Dresden - home of the famous Meissen factory. They already produced pieces featuring a rhinoceros but it was not until their modeller Johann Kaendler saw Clara that it was realised that the picture of a rhinoceros used previously, based on a Durer engraving, was slightly at odds with reality to say the least! Chapter 4 entitled Pretty in Porcelain... includes this lovely sentence: The very notion of a rhinoceros trundling towards a porcelain factory seems to presage disaster.

A Meissen dish (pre Clara) is illustrated in the book showing a painted rhinoceros. It was seeing this which made me wonder if Spode depicted any rhinoceroses on any of their pots. Of course they do!
Plate, The Rhinoceros House, 2000
The first pattern I thought of was one produced at the very beginning of this century in 2000 called Zoological Gardens. I remember doing the research for the Marketing Department at Spode which was a little tricky as this is not an 'original' Spode pattern.

You will find more about this pattern, which was originally produced in the mid-1800s by another company altogether, by clicking Spode ABC and go to the Z page. Six plates were produced and I think a few ornamental pieces. The Rhinoceros House depicted here shows the wild animal and the viewing public separated only by a flimsy rustic fence.

There are, though, much older Spode patterns from the very early 1800s which use exotic animals. Such beasts would have been unfamiliar to the Spode designers and engravers, most likely only known from paintings and books. Several Spode patterns of this early date use exotic beasts in the border of their designs: Gothic Castle, Indian Sporting and Caramanian. It is the latter where a rhinoceros is featured. You can see the animal circled in red in the illustration on this page of a plate in Caramanian (V & A collections.) For more detailed examination I would recommend the website Spode Exhibition Online. Once you have clicked on the link you can select your piece and then use the magnifier to examine it more closely.

Plate, Caramanian pattern, c1809
The centre scenes for the Caramanian pattern were taken from Volume II of a three-part work Views of Egypt, Palestine and the Ottoman Empire by Luigi Mayer and published in 1803. Click on Caramanian to see more information on my Spode ABC. Differently shaped pieces in a service each feature a different scene but the border remains constant. It is worth remembering that the engravers had probably not seen animals in the flesh so it is not surprising that a scene from the pattern, depicting a camel, looks as though the engraver is uncertain how a camel's knees work! Further researching, again on Spode Exhibition Online, will give you a range of pieces in the pattern. You can also see the print which is the source for Spode's rhinoceros. It is from Oriental Field Sports by Williamson and Howitt, c1807. So the Spode designers/engravers used two different publications to develop this pattern.

I love the movement of the rhinoceros as it seems to chase the other beasts around the edge of the pieces; or maybe it is trying to catch up? I have yet to think of any more Spode with rhinoceroses, maybe there isn't any, but I am sure you will let me know if you find anything. It is a good exercise in looking closely at the elements of these early 19th century designs from Spode.

I now find I am getting quite fond of rhinoceroses. Below is detail of a painting of the lovely Clara by Pietro Longhi which belongs to the National Gallery. Click the caption to find out more and if you want to browse even more paintings of rhinoceroses in UK public art collections click on Your Paintings (and search on rhino) for a fine art display of these fascinating beasts.

Clara featured in
Exhibition of a Rhinoceros at Venice (detail)
1751