Capodimonte Italian Porcelain Origins and History

An early Capodimonte figurine called Fisherman and Companion

Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 1.0  

Although many people associate the name with home shopping channel pieces sold in decades past, Capodimonte porcelain actually dates back centuries in age and a vast array of wares have been produced 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 shared on the Capodimonte Limited website.

History and Origins

From its inception onward, “the Capodimonte name was synonymous with the finest quality Neapolitan porcelain," the Capodimonte Limited site said. The Royal Factory, which no longer exists, came to be 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. This area in Germany is known for making some of the finest porcelain in the world.

King Charles developed a curiosity surrounding porcelain through his new wife’s family. This interest developed into quite a productive passion that led to many years of research and development before the Royal Factory in Italy actually came about.

Once the formula for porcelain paste was perfected, many skilled artisans and those adept at the craft, 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 porcelain pieces produced at the factory in Italy.

The earliest pieces had no markings at all and are identified by their style and the way they were decorated only. Eventually, pieces leaving the Royal Factory bore a fleur-de-lis mark. The earlier fleur-de-lis marks were fatter at first, and then a thinner version was used. These marks are usually applied on the base of a piece in either blue or gold.

Furthering the Capodimonte Lineage

The Royal Factory eventually moved to Spain with King Charles. Several decades later under the direction of his son, Ferdinand, another Capodimonte factory was established in Naples, Italy. 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 a few 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 such as 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-de-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 early pieces aren’t the types of items most collectors of Capodimonte porcelain usually find offered for sale in antique shops today. Most of the oldest examples are in impressive high-end collections and museums now, such as the figurine shown above.

Yes, occasionally you'll find a high-quality older piece at an antique show; however, this is an exception rather than the norm. What modern collectors do find are electric lamps dating to the 1950s, 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,” the Capodimonte Limited site aptly 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. Be sure you get the best price possible.

Learn More

Unfortunately, there are no recent reference guides available on Capodimonte. But if you’re really dedicated to learning more about this Italian porcelain, you can try to find a copy of Capodimonte Collectibles by Catherine P. Bloom (Publications International) through your favorite out-of-print book source.