White earthenware with inlaid clay decoration under a lead glaze; H. 10 5/16 in. (26.1 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1740)
For many years the origin of the distinctive, elaborate pottery, now called Saint-Porchaire, was unknown. In the first half of the nineteenth century, it was called only "Henri Deux ware." In 1864 it was thought to come from Oiron in France. It was not until 1888 that its source was attributed to the village of Saint-Porchaire near Bressuive.
Saint-Porchaire pieces, such as this ewer, required much careful hand preparation after the basic shapes had been achieved. The plastic decoration, such as the festoons, spout, saints in niches, and lion masks of this piece, were made in molds and then applied. The geometric ornamentation was made by pressing metal dies into the unfired surface and then filling the depressions with brown clay. The surface was then covered with a transparent lead glaze. The lightly fired white body is very fragile. For this reason it is most probable that Saint-Porchaire ware was always meant to be decorative rather than functional. The devices or armorial bearings of royalty, the nobility, and religious institutions that mark many of the examples testify to the elevated circles in which it found patrons. Only seventy examples of Saint-Porchaire ware survive, and it is probable that even in its own time it was a relatively restricted product.