Manufactory Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory German
Modeler Franz Anton Bustelli Swiss

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 533

Figures and figure groups were produced at the major porcelain factories in Europe during the middle decades of the eighteenth century, but the quality of sculptural production varied considerably from factory to factory. The popularity of figures as decoration for the dessert table motivated each concern to find talented modelers, but many of the sculptors who worked in porcelain were not able to fully exploit the possibilities posed by the challenging medium. In contrast, the work produced by Franz Anton Bustelli (Swiss, d. 1763) at the Nymphenburg fac-tory in the years 1754–63 is unsurpassed in terms of its expressive quality and sculptural mastery, and Bustelli’s achievements, following those of Johann Joachim Kändler (German, 1706–1775) at Meissen, reaffirmed the viability of porcelain as a serious medium for sculpture.

Very little is known of Bustelli’s life other than he may have been born in the Italian region of Switzerland known as Ticino, and he was employed at the Nymphenburg factory from November 1754 until his death in April 1763.[1] While it is improbable that Bustelli had not gained experience in another porcelain factory, nothing is known of his experience prior to his arrival at Nymphenburg. Alfred Ziffer has suggested that Bustelli trained with the Munich court sculptor Johann Baptist Straub (German, 1704–1784),[2] but documentary proof has yet to be discovered. Bustelli’s talents must have been quickly apparent to the factory’s administrators, and he proved to be remarkably prolific, modeling approximately 120 figures and groups in his first six and a half years at the factory.[3]

Among these figures were sixteen drawn from the Italian comedy, and they are commonly regarded as some of the finest porcelain sculptures of the eighteenth century.[4] Interestingly, Bustelli chose the characters to be represented from both the long- established commedia dell’arte and the more recent Théâtre italien, which emerged in France as that country’s response to the Italian form of popular theater.[5] As a result, Bustelli’s sixteen figures do not conform to the standard roster of the commedia dell’arte but rather incorporate several lesser- known characters from the Théâtre italien. It is almost certain that Bustelli selected the names for these latter characters from prints depicting figures from the Théâtre italien, a supposition reinforced by the existence of two such prints published by Martin Engelbrecht (German, 1684–1756) with Bustelli’s signature and notations in his hand.[6] While Bustelli derived the names and certain elements from these prints, the figures that he modeled are wholly original creations that reflect a sculptor thinking in three dimensions.
One of the novel aspects of Bustelli’s sixteen figures is that they were conceived as eight pairs. Linking the characters as they were customarily paired on the stage, Bustelli modeled the figures of each couple so that their poses and gestures reflected a specific interaction between them. This was not the first instance two individual porcelain figures had been conceived as a pair engaging with one another,[7] but it was novel to create a series in which all the figures were paired, with each couple communicating through gesture.

This figure of Lucinda represents a character from the Théâtre italien rather than the commedia dell’arte, and the figure with which she would have been paired, Pierrot, is also derived from the Théâtre italien.[8] Lucinda was a minor character in the French version of the Italian comedy, and it is not clear why Bustelli chose her for depiction; however, the Engelbrecht print seems to have provided him with both her name and the idea to include her. Bustelli’s Lucinda turns to face her lover Pierrot and holds a rose close to her heart, which presumably he has given her. With her right hand, she points in the direction that she wishes to go. In contrast, Pierrot gestures in the opposite direction and holds a small lantern to light the way. While the couple gaze lovingly at one another, their conflicting gestures suggest the implied rendezvous will never take place. The pointing gesture made by each figure corresponds to the established hand signal of “indico,” or “I point out,” and treatises, such as John Bulwer’s Chirologia: of The Natural Language of the Hand (1644), provided diagrams to illustrate a code of gestural meanings available to artists that would be immediately understood by an educated audience.[9] Bustelli has taken this simple hand gesture and, by slightly exaggerating the expressive poses of the two figures, has created a moment of quiet drama in which the two characters are actively involved in a negotiation.

Bustelli chose to depict all of his comedy figures unmasked, with the exception of Mezzetin,[10] and the painted decoration of most of the female characters reflects stylish contemporary dress. The clothes worn by the Museum’s Lucinda are particularly elaborate, and the expense of the various components of her dress is suggested by the silk brocade of her jacket, the gold buttons of her bodice, and the gold braid along the hem of her skirt. The quality of the painting on this example of Lucinda indicates that it is one of the finest of Bustelli’s comedy figures, and the precision with which the hair and facial features are delineated, in addition to the detailed depiction of the clothing, reflects Nymphenburg factory decoration of the highest quality.

(For key to shortened references see bibliography in Munger, European Porcelain in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018)
1 For more on Bustelli’s life, see M. Newman 1997, pp. 7–8; Hantschmann and Ziffer 2004.
2 Ziffer 2015.
3 M. Newman 1997, p. 7.
4 All sixteen models are illustrated in Hantschmann and Ziffer 2004, pp. 272–73.
5 For more about the Théâtre italien, see M. Newman 1997, p. 10.
6 Ibid., p. 12.
7 The two Meissen figures, which compose The Thrown Kiss, were modeled ca. 1736; see MMA 1982.60.311, .312.
8 For an illustration of Pierrot, see Jansen 2001, vol. 1, p. 197, no. 206.
9 Chilton 2001.
10 For an example of this figure, see M. Newman 1997, p. 48. The intended identity of this figure has been debated, and it has been described as both Harlequin (Le Corbeiller 1990, p. 56, cover ill.) and Mezzetin (M. Newman 1997, pp. 47–52; Katharina Hantschmann in Hantschmann and Ziffer 2004, pp. 477–78, no. 151).

Lucinda, Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory (German, 1747–present), Hard-paste porcelain decorated in polychrome enamels, gold, German, Neudeck-Nymphenburg

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