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A Century of Giving

Campana-shaped vase

Meissen Porcelain Factory


hard-paste porcelain, 43 x 26 cm

The Fitzwilliam Museum: C.7-1995

This elegant Meissen vase, made of enamelled and gilt porcelain, once belonged to Rudolf Ackermann (1764-1834), publisher and pioneer of lithography.

Ackermann, a native of Stohlberg, in Saxony, maintained extensive connections with his home country. He was an active fund-raiser for widows and orphans in this region in the wake of the Napoleonic wars and was presented with this vase in 1816, by the King of Saxony, as a token of gratitude.

Meissen started production in the early 18th century catering for the elite European market and was originally owned by the Elector of Saxony. It is still in business today.

The vase is decorated with a delicate neo-classical frieze in gray enamels representing the 'ALIMENTA ITALIAE'. The alimenta was a system of support to help children and the urban poor in Italy. It was set up by Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) who was famed for his fairness, compassion and good government.

Here we see Emperor Trajan seated on a podium, accompanied by officials and framed by classical columns. In front of them is a queue of hungry men, women and children.

The frieze is derived from the decorations on the triumphal Arch of Constantine in Rome. The arch celebrates the golden age of the Roman Empire under the so-called 'good emperors': Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.

The theme of nourishment extends into the rim of the vase, with its finely painted border of corn sheaves, cornucopiae and bunches of grapes.

This high quality, rare piece of porcelain, acquired in 1995, reflected the personal taste of the Director, Simon Jervis. The theme of generous, charitable giving also makes it particularly appropriate to this exhibition.

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