On July 14th, France and many other nations around the world celebrated French National Day, also known as Bastille Day. The date is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, which took place in 1789, and marked a turning point in the French Revolution. These days, this national occasion is usually marked with parades, fireworks, and, one can only imagine, good food and wine. So, it seemed apt to observe this historic moment with a French-themed Object of the Day post.

This dainty, sweet looking object is a custard pot dating from about 1770. Manufactured by the Mennecy porcelain factory, it is made of soft-paste porcelain, with a finely ribbed surface with polychrome overglaze decoration of floral sprays. The knob on the lid is modeled after a pink apple with a green leaf, and emphasizes the natural theme of the object’s ornamentation. The pink enamels used on this particular object are very characteristic of the Mennecy factory.

The Mennecy porcelain factory was situated to the south of Paris. When in 1748 the Council of State prohibited the manufacture of porcelain in Paris in favor of the newly privileged wares of the factory in nearby Vincennes, François Barbin and his wife moved his porcelain establishment outside the city to Mennecy and under the protection of Louis-François de Neufville, duc de Villeroy.[i] Mennecy porcelain is of the soft-paste variety rather than ‘true’ porcelain, which is characterized by a hard, white body of the type that ceramic wares from Asia and the Meissen porcelain manufactory in Germany are usually made of.[ii]

What drew my attention to this object was its use as a custard cup. The French term for custard is crème anglaise. The date of the work’s manufacture positions it within a time period when Anglomania was in full swing in France. At its core, Anglomania was a ‘craze’ for all things English. Serving a crème anglaise at a dinner in 18th century France reflected the host’s up-to-the-minute style and good taste, but, with the Revolution on the horizon, the fashionable vessel and the custard it contained could very well have been viewed as a display of bourgeois excess.

Zenia Malmer focuses on the intersection of food and design history. She is a volunteer in the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department. @hungry.historian.

[i] https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/people/18044465/

[ii] http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O99362/vase-mennecy-porcelain-factory/

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