Four Carnival Musicians

Factory Zurich Pottery and Porcelain Factory Swiss
Modeler Joseph Nees

Not on view

This group has long been difficult to place. Of the three known examples, tow have traditionally been attributed to Capodimonte, while the third, in the Museo Stibbert, Florence, has recently been assigned to Ferdinand IV’s Royal Factory at Naples. The subject matter, the sparely applied pastel colors, and the slightly wistful mood are all compatible with Capodimonte work, but the circular composition and the modeling of the figures are not. Instead of the robust Neapolitan peasants with their plump faces and wide feet, typical of Capodimonte sculpture, these figures are conspicuous for their lightness, with thin, almost pointed faces and feet. Single figures displaying the same characteristics—and even including such details as the masks and wide-brimmed hats—were made at the Zurich factory where the original models have survived and were first recognized by Siegfried Ducret. One such figure is in the Metropolitan, R. Thornton Wilson collection (50.211.265), and is marked on the base with three impressed circles in a row, a variant form of one of Zurich’s two regular factory marks. The present group is unmarked, but the third example, now also in the Museum, in the Linsky collection (1982.60.277), bears the hitherto unnoticed mark of three impressed circles, thus confirming the Swiss origin of the model.

Ducret did not suggest an authorship for the single Zurich figures, but they, and therefore this model as well, can be considered the work of Joseph Nees. Need began his career at Künersberg in about 1745, and, like many porcelain modelers, moved from factory to fctory. In 1758 he was working at Ellwangen; the following year he went to Ludwigsburg, remaining there until his final move in 1768 to Zurich, where he worked until his death in 1773.

Even with the information provided by factory records, it is rarely possible to assess the degree to which the peripatetic modelers carried their personal style with them and sustained it under different regimes and tastes. We can recognize Nees’s work, however, in part through this reputation at Zurich of his earlier Ludwigsburg models, which provide evidence of the continuity of his style. The salient features of the figures in this group are all present at Ludwigsburg, particularly in a group of models made there about 1760; in them one sees the same proportions, lightness, and elongated faces and feet. This internal consistency identifies the groups from both factories as the work of the same modeler. And though a second modeler, Valentin Sonnenschein, is also recorded at the same two factories, his work—in the full-fledged neoclassical style of the later 1770s—was entirely different in character. To Nees, therefore, we may attribute this group and its related figures of musicians and actors and dancers, made both at Ludwigsburg and Zurich.

Four Carnival Musicians, Zurich Pottery and Porcelain Factory (Swiss, founded 1763), Soft-paste porcelain, Swiss, Zurich

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