Ladies on Plates

By Karen Parr-Moody


One of the loveliest ways to capture a lady is on a plate.  Collectors of portrait plates know this can be literally done. From Cleopatra to Marie-Antoinette, from Grecian goddesses to Art Nouveau stunners, a bevy of beauties have been captured on porcelain or tin plates. With a thorough search, a smattering of such styles can be found at GasLamp Antiques and Decorating Mall.


Portraits on porcelain plates became popular during the 1800s, staying so through the early 20th century. Those of higher quality will have entirely hand-painted decoration along with hand-worked gold. Others might have printed decorations, including transfer portrait designs of popular figures of the day, such as the Empress Josephine Bonaparte plate in the photo at right ($40, Booth S551).


Many Austrian and Bavarian firms produced both hand painted and transfer portraits on porcelain. Some of the best examples of this genre were made in Vienna by the Imperial and Royal Porcelain Manufactory. This factory, founded in founded circa 1717, was the leader, but it was not the only the only company to have made porcelain products in Vienna; there were scores of them. Because of this, collectors commonly refer to portrait plates by all Viennese makers as “Royal Vienna.”


Manufacturers of such plates in Germany included Meissen, Konigliche Porzellan Manufaktur, and R.S. Prussia. In France, the royal factory at Sevres was the maker of note, followed by assorted makers in the town of Limoges.


Portrait plates’ subjects vary. Meissen pieces include a long list of royal subjects: King Joseph of Austria, Queen Marie Josepha of Poland, Peter and Catherine the Great of Russia, Louis Dauphin of France, Queen Charlotte of England, and Marie Antoinette of France. The Royal Vienna style plates feature their own plethora of beauties, including Cleopatra, Queen Louise, Ann Hillmayr, Princess Lambelle, and Countess Potacka.


For France’s royal factory of Sévres, the popular subjects were French rulers and aristocrats, including Louis XIV and Louis XV, and Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte. Sévres plates reign as among the most collectible, and many other makers of the time were inspired to create Josephine Bonaparte plates in the Sévres tradition. In these, the empress is often depicted in a colorized, idealized version of a wood block print of her that was popular at the time, in which she wears a sapphire and diamond tiara (photo, left, Empress Josephine Bonaparte; $125, Booth S551).


In addition to the ruling class, various luminaries were often portrayed in French portrait plates, creating a long list of lovelies. Included was Madame Récamier, a celebrated beauty of the Napoleonic period, after a famous portrait by Jaques-Louis David. Another was Madame du Barry, the official mistress – or maîtresse-en-titre – of Louis XV of France.


Such rich historic context is why GasLamp antique dealer Gail Kopcsak enjoys featuring the portrait plates of Josephine Bonaparte she currently has in her showcase.


“I love anything Napoleon,” she says. “I love the whole Napoleon story; I think it’s a fascinating part of history.”


Kopcsak has a personal collection of Napoleon statues and portraits, and notes that collecting such items was part of the culture during his lifetime.


“It was a big thing during the period,” she says. “It was a way of having living history. They didn’t have TV, you know.”


In the wake of Sévres’ popular portraits, there are many “inspired by” pieces that are of very high quality and can be appreciated in their own right. However, because authentic Sévres plates command such exorbitant prices (say, mid hundreds to low thousands a plate), it is suggested an expert examine such pieces prior to purchase. At the very least, there are many books on the subject, such as “Sevres Porcelain Makers and Marks of the Eighteenth Century” by Carl Christian Dauterman.


For an overall look at the category of porcelain portraiture, Jim and Susan Harran’s “Decorative Plates Identification and Value” is a great tome.


The elegant Carl Schumann decorative plate, seen above right, has an exquisitely reticulated border and features a slightly different look from that of other makers (photo, above right; $36, Booth B106). From Dresden, this beautifully painted plate features a more naturalistic scene than those typical of Royal Vienna an Sevresand offers is a well-crafted alternative for collectors desiring a subtler piece in their collection.


In a different vein of plate portraiture is a category called Vienna Art Plate, which is comprised of tin plates decorated by color lithographs, typically of beautiful women (photo, left; $58, Booth B106).


Issued between the years 1905 and 1915, Vienna art plates tend to feature advertisements for products and various commercial enterprises on their reverses. They were often given away as special promotions by firms such as Coca-Cola, Anheuser Busch, baking companies, and even furniture or shoe stores. Coco-Cola had a series of seven different lovely ladies that is collectible today.


The Madonna della Sedia tin Vienna Art Plate below features a reproduction of a famous work done by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, the Renaissance painter better known simply as “Raphael,” in 1514 ($58, Booth B106).  


Since Vienna Art Plates represent an entire category of collecting than porcelain portraiture, collecting requires some research. The definitive guide on the market value of such plates is “Hazelcorn's Price Guide To Tin Vienna Art Plates.”


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