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Scent flask

Soft-paste porcelain painted in enamels, with engraved and enamelled gold mounts and stopper Capodimonte, possibly painted by Giovanni Sigismondo Fischer, c. 1752-55, the mounts made in London, c. 1755-60
H. 10 cm

Purchased with the S.V. Finn Fund, and grants from The Art Fund, and the Museums, Libraries and Archives/Victoria & Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund
C.28 & A-2007

This charming scent flask was made by the Royal Bourbon porcelain factory which was founded in 1743 by Charles II of Naples in the grounds of the royal palace at Capodimonte. The factory closed in 1759 when the King succeeded to the Spanish throne, and the operation was transferred to Buen Retiro, Madrid.

Only three or four Capodimonte scent bottles of this form are known, each with different decoration and mounts. This one is particularly significant because it appears to be the only surviving Capodimonte porcelain with Jacobite decoration and a connection to a specific English owner. One side is decorated with a miniature of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender (1720-88), surrounded by a garland of thistles, and white roses, which were emblems of the Stuarts. The other side bears the arms of Lady Mary Hervey of Ickworth (née Lepell, 1799/1700-68), with the Hervey motto ‘JE N’OUBLIERAY JAMAIS (I will never forget) which is highly appropriate for this souvenir of the Prince.

Before her marriage in 1720 Lady Mary (or Molly as she was known) had been a maid of honour to Caroline, Princess of Wales, and won acclaim at court for her beauty and amiable character. She was unusually well educated for a woman of her day, and developed intellectual interests which she shared with correspondents and friends. After her husband’s death in 1743, Lady Mary divided her time between her London home, and her father-in-law, the Earl of Bristol’s house at Ickworth. Of her eight children, the three eldest boys were successively 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Earl of Bristol, the last commissioning the extraordinary oval house known as the ‘Rotunda’ at Ickworth where several portraits of her are displayed.

Lady Mary’s Jacobite sympathies were well known to her family and close friends. She had a white rose bush in her rose garden at Ickworth, and is said to have worn a white rose on every 10th June, the Old Pretender’s birthday. Her favourite son Augustus, recorded that his elder brother had removed his sisters from their mother’s care on the grounds that she was making them ’rank Jacobites’. However, by that date, July 1750, it seems unlikely that she had an earnest desire to see the Hanoverian monarchy overthrown, but like many of the gentry, maintained a devoted attachment to the Stuarts. In August 1750 she travelled to Paris accompanied by members of her family, and therefore missed an incognito visit to London by Prince Charles in mid September. This conversation piece was painted while the family were in Paris.

Lady Hervey never visited Italy, and it is not known how the scent flask came into her possession. One possibility is that it was commissioned for her by Captain Augustus Hervey, who visited Naples during January and February 1753, and again in July, when he recorded buying Capodimonte porcelain at a fair in his journal. If so, Lady Hervey may not have received the flask until 1756 when Augustus returned to London.

Dorothy Margaret Stuart, Molly Lepell Lady Hervey, London, 1936. Ed. David Erskine, Augustus Hervey’s Journal, London, 1953. Angela Carolla-Perrotti, Le Porcellane dei Borbone di Napoli, Capodimonte e Real Fabbrica Ferdinandea 1743-1806, Naples 1986. Nino Strachey, Ickworth, London (National Trust), 1998. Entries for Lady Mary Hervey, Captain August Hervey, and Prince Charles Edward Stuart in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Acquisition date: 2007