- Museum number
Figure, Astronomy or Astrology; thickly potted, white glazed, soft-paste porcelain; press-moulded; glaze slightly yellow-green where it has pooled; seated female, left breast exposed, holds a sun in her right hand; behind her a tree in blossom; at her right knee a reclining putto drawing on sheets of paper or a book with a pair of dividers; at her left a globe; no marks.
- Production date
- 1748 (circa)
Height: 21.70 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Dawson 1994
The version at the Musée national de Céramique, Sèvres, differs from this one principally in the position of the figure's right hand which is empty. Comparison with the group in a private collection revealed the following significant differences:
a) the child looks ahead, rather than downwards;
b) the book at the front has more pages;
c) the globe is positioned differently;
d) there is a telescope on the map [?] at the front;
e) there are fewer leaves on the tree, which is bent backwards as if it collapsed in the firing.
The source of this figure group remains a matter of conjecture. It has been suggested(1) that it derives from a Meissen model of Thalia by Kändler(2) said to be based on a painting of Uranie by E. Le Sueur made for the Hôtel Lambert and now in the Louvre, Paris.(3) However, the emblem of the sun is generally associated with Truth who is often shown with her foot on a globe as in the statue by Bernini in the Borghese Gallery.(4)
An engraving by François Boucher called ‘L'Astronomie’(5) includes the attributes of a globe, a book and a telescope and is a possible source of inspiration.
Two titles may have been used for this group. Nineteen examples of ‘Astrologie’ valued at 30 livres each were recorded in the ‘magasin de vente’ in the inventory of October 1752.(6) On 20 April 1754 '1 Astrologie en blanc' was purchased by M. Bailly for no less than 54 livres. It was fired before October 1752.(7) On 30 May he bought ‘1 Astrologie’ for the same price from the same kiln.(8) A figure of ‘Astronomie’ valued at 15 livres appears in the inventory of 1757 amongst the defective pieces,(9) and two were sold at 24 livres in May and November 1761 respectively.(10)
(1) Sotheby's, Goldblatt sale, 1-2 May 1956, Lot 129.
(2) Thalia, modelled in December 1744, see L. Schnorr von Carolsfeld, ‘Porzellansammlung Gustav von Klemperer’, Dresden, 1928, no. 687, Tafel 72.
(3) E. Mâle, ‘L’Art Religieux de la fin du XVIe siècle, du XVIIe siècle et du XVIIIe siècle, étude sur l’iconographie après le Concile de Trente’, Paris, 1951, (2nd ed.).
(4) Ibid., p. 384, fig. 223.
(5) Jean-Richard, Pierrette, ‘L’œuvre gravé de François Boucher dans la collection Edmond Rothschild’, Paris, 1978, no. 1310.
(6) MNS, Archives de Sèvres, I 7.
(7) Ibid.,Vy 1,f. 38.
(8) Ibid.,Vy 1,f. 41V.
(9) Ibid., I 7
(10) Ibid., Vy 3, f. 56 and 62.
1) Sèvres, Musée national de Céramique, inv. MNC 11095, acquired 1902, illus. Hallé, Antoinette and Préaud, Tamara, ‘Porcelaines de Vincennes, les Origines de Sèvres’, Grand Palais, Paris, October 1977 – January 1978, no. 452.
2) Chaffers, 1872, Vol. II, pl. CXXXVII, no. 273.
3) Chaffers, William, ‘The New Keramik Gallery’, London, 1926, Vol. II, p. 330, fig. 282 (formerly in Lady Charlotte Schreiber's collection).
4) Sotheby's, Simon Goldblatt Sale, 1-2 May, 1956, Lot 129, sold to Acosta for £95; now in a private collection, London.
5) Switzerland, Berne, Schloss Jegenstorf, 1951 exhibition, information kindly communicated by T.H. Clarke, Esq.; this one was probably from the H. Martinet Collection (whereabouts unknown).
6) USA, New York, Sotheby's, 5 December 1978, Lot 4.
7) Denmark, Copenhagen, David Collection, inv. 2/1977, illus. Eriksen, Svend, ‘The David Collection, French Porcelain’, Copenhagen, 1980, pl. 18a, without tree at back, her head differently positioned.
Literature: King, William, Etude anglaise sur les porcelaines de Vincennes, ‘Bulletin de la Société des Amis de Vincennes’, March 1939, no. 15, p. 196; Savage, George, ‘Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century French Porcelain’, London, 1960, plate 69b; Eriksen, Svend and de Bellaigue, Geoffrey, ‘Sèvres Porcelain: Vincennes and Sèvres 1740-1800’, London, 1987, pl. 4, p. 193; Préaud, Tamara and d’Albis, Antoine, ‘La porcelaine de Vincennes’, Paris, 1991, p. 143, no. 93.
A. Dawson 18 July 2013 (reference from the late Clare Le Corbeiller in corresp. 15 July 1994)
Lady Charlotte Schreiber recorded in her diary (Vol. I, p. 71) on 18 February 1870: '...walked to the other Oppenheim's at the Faubourg St. Martin, a small unpretending shop full of rubbish, where, however, we found an exquisite pâte tendre St. Cloud group, or rather a figure of Astronomy attended by a Cupid. She holds a sun in her hand like a conventional emblem of Louis Quatorze, which was also the mark of the St. Cloud china: price £1.8. it was rather heavy to carry home'.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Presented by William King (former Deputy Keeper in the Department of Ceramics and Ethnography, British Museum), 1938.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number