In spite of many people associating the name with home shopping channel wares sold over the past few decades, Capodimonte porcelain actually dates back centuries in age and a vast array of wares have been marketed under this name. The name Capodimonte, meaning "top of the mountain" in Italian, is apropos considering the first pieces were produced in a hilltop factory established by King Charles VII.
The Royal Factory produced porcelain wares from 1759 to 1780, according to information previously provided on Capodimonte Limited website.
Exploring the History of Capodimonte
“The Capodimonte name was synonymous with the finest quality Neapolitan porcelain and ceramics from that period onward,” the site explained. The Royal Factory, which no longer exists, came to being when King Charles VII of Naples married Maria Amalia. She was the granddaughter of Augustus II, who in addition to being the King of Poland, also founded the first European hard paste porcelain factory in Meissen, Germany.
King Charles developed a curiosity surrounding porcelain through his new wife’s family. This interest developed into a quite productive passion that led to many years of research and development before the Royal Factory actually came about.
Once the formula for porcelain paste was perfected, many skilled craftsmen and artisans, both men and women, worked to produce fine Capodimonte pieces.
Plates, vases, small and large bowls, tea and coffee cups, large and small jugs, sugar bowls, tea caddies, teapots, snuff-boxes, and walking stick handles mounted in gold are among the numerous fine wares produced at the factory in Italy.
The earliest pieces had no markings. Eventually pieces leaving the Royal Factory bore a fleur de lis mark.
Furthering the Capodimonte Lineage
The Royal Factory eventually moved to Spain with King Charles and then several decades later under the direction of his son, Ferdinand, another Capodimonte factory was established in Naples. During this period, the shape, style and decoration of the porcelain production were similar to those made at the original Capodimonte factory, but there were some differences.
For instance, the figurines made in Ferdinand's Capodimonte factory took on more lifelike characteristics and tended to reflect the royal court rather than everyday life. More utilitarian wares like dinner sets moved away from pastoral decor to city scenes and those reflecting the excavation and history of Pompeii, for example.
Ferdinand's factory also used the first the blue crown and Neopolitan N mark in the late 1700s, whereas his father's earlier marks were a number of variations of the fleur-di-lis depending on the age of the piece in question.
The "Golden Age of Capodimonte" ended when Ferdinand's factory closed in the early 1800s (some sources indicate 1817, others purport 1834).
Collecting Capodimonte Today
While this history is interesting to say the least, these aren’t the types of items most collectors of Capodimonte porcelain find offered for sale in antiques shops today. Most of the oldest examples are in impressive high-end collections and museums now.
Yes, occasionally you'll find a high quality older piece at an antique show, like the jewelry casket shown illustrating this article, or the pieces formerly held in the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada before it closed. This is an exception rather than the norm, however.
What modern collectors do find are mid-century electric lamps, figurines of varying quality, carefully molded arrangements of flowers, which are actually quite beautiful, and other decorative objects made during the last century or so. Some of these are rare and valuable in their own right, although they were produced in tribute to the original wares rather than by the "official" Capodimonte factories of previous centuries. Most of these are marked with a variation of the blue crown and N mark. But remember, not everything marked Capodimonte is created equally.
“The Capodimonte logo, in the present day, is not necessarily a guarantee of porcelain or ceramic quality. Neither is it a guarantee that the product is in fact porcelain or ceramic,” Capodimonte Limited stated. In other words, it pays to do a little research to know exactly what you’re buying, how old it is, what a piece is made of (like cheap composites rather than hard-paste porcelain) and the origin of the item before plunking down a pretty penny on a piece of purported Capodimonte.
Learning More About Capodimonte
Unfortunately, there aren't recent reference guides available on this type of porcelain. But if you’re really dedicated to learning more about Capodimonte, you can try to find a copy of Capodimonte Collectibles by Catherine P. Bloom (Publications International) through your favorite out-of-print book source.