Tea set

ARTIST / MAKER: Imperial Vienna Porcelain Factory (maker)
DATE: 19th century (made)
PLACE: Austria (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Porcelain, with overglaze enamels and gilded decoration

The Imperial Vienna Porcelain factory operated under various guises between 1718 and 1864. This nine-piece set, known as a tête-á-tête because it was designed for two people, includes a rectangular tray, a teapot, a wide shallow dish, known as a tazza, two cups and saucers with covers, a tea canister and a milk jug. Each piece is hand painted with scenes from the life of mythological figures. The artist based these compositions on a wide variety of artistic sources from Italian Renaissance painting to neoclassical sculpture, all of which the designer would have seen in contemporary prints.

The tazza features the Greek messenger god Hermes in his chariot drawn by cockerels after a design by Raphael (1483-1520) in the Sala dei Pontefici in the Borgia Apartment, Vatican. Similarly, one cup, which has been misidentified by scholars as Zeus and Ganymede, actually represents Zeus and Cupid, taken from Raphael’s fresco in Psyche’s Loggia in the Villa Farnesina in Rome. The tray is decorated with a dynamic triumphal entry of three Greek gods, Cybele, Bacchus and Ceres in a chariot drawn by lions. This scene of sensory delight symbolises ‘Earth’ and is derived from a series of four paintings entitled ‘The Elements’ by French painter Louis de Boullogne II (1654-1733). The teapot depicting the Greek warrior and hero Achilles teaching the centaur Chiron to shoot follows French academic painter Jean-Baptiste Regnault’s (1754-1829) portrayal of the story in 1782 (Louvre, Paris.) Theseus, the divine Greek hero fighting the Centaur Bianor rendered on the milk jug is likely inspired by Italian neoclassical artist Antonio Canova’s (1757-1822) sculpture of 1804-19 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. The jug, however, mimics an anonymous 18th century engraving that sets the scene in the Labyrinth of Knossos, referencing Theseus’ more famous defeat of the Minotaur.