The World Turned Upside Down

The phrase “everything happens for a reason” makes sense only when one looks backward. It’s cold comfort to anyone facing an uncertain future. Still, some things actually do happen for a reason.

In the early 18th century, for example, French king Louis XIV found himself once again out of money. His costly wars against the English and Dutch (i.e.; the War of Devolution, the Dutch War, the War of the Spanish Succession, etc.) led him to enact various Sumptuary Laws restricting the amount of silver, gold, and other metals that the flock of aesthete nobility around him could flaunt. The Sun King needed precious metals to fill his coffers and base metals to make his cannons.

This situation turned out to be very good for the potters of France, and it’s a fair bet they knew this. After all, their wares could not be melted down into ingots or shot. French potters, inspired and instructed by Italian tin glaze potters, had mastered the “grand feu” maiolica process in the mid 16th century. By Louis XIV’s reign, they greatly expanded their color pallette with the “petit fuefaience enameling process. A host of new, flamboyant styles burst on the scene.

The Rayonant style, inspired by Japanese Imari porcelain (then all the rage) defined French Rococo faience. Armorial plates were a big part of this new French work. Faience parlant (speaking faience), with imagery featuring cartoons and text, was equally popular.

Another unusual style was called Singerie. It featured monkey imagery – “singe” means “monkey” in French. Prancing, mischievous monkeys hopped across a wide variety of wares. They were so mischievous they hopped across national boundaries to create a continent-wide fashion. Monkeys were seen on English tankards, chopping down trees full of eligible bachelors to the delight of on-looking maidens. In sprawling Portuguese tiled murals, they were livery attendants to sumptuous weddings of hens

An entire genre of prancing, mischievous monkey pottery came into being because of the proclivities of a powerful man with no sense of fiscal responsibility.

Of course this result only makes sense if looked at, mischievously, backwards. If one looks the other way, and tries to discern possible future outcomes of a man who is today in a position of power and who has absolutely no sense of responsibility – fiscal or otherwise – one can only imagine what mischievous results we might end up with…

Marraige of the Hen

Readings:

Tin-Glazed Earthenware In North America. Amanda Lange. Historic Deerfield/Deerfield, MA. 2001.

Gifts for Good Children; The History of Children’s China, 1790 – 1890. Noel Riley. Richard Dennis Publishing/Somerset, England. 1991.

Azulejos; Masterpieces of the National Tile Museum of Lisbon. Editions Chandeigne/Paris. 2016.

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3 Responses to “The World Turned Upside Down”

  1. Evelyn Snyder Says:

    Great post. Used to joke that we’d better get busy making pottery because the pottery monkies were not going to come in and do it over night while we slept. Had no idea there was an historical reference waiting to be discovered after the fact. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the saying, “Things happen for a reason.” On the one hand, it’s obvious as causec nd effect are pretty irrefutable in the non-magical world. On the other hand, people frequently say it to imply some magical significance to cause and effect. I tend to more sceptical school of thought that holds even random occurences can be assigned meaning after the fact. Thanks for getting me thinking about pottery monkies!

  2. Steve Earp Says:

    Thanks to Harriet Speer for pointing out an obvious typo – the French word for monkey is “singe,” not “sange.” Sang in French is, of course, blood. As a French Minor in college, I should have caught this sooner…

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