At the end of the 18th century, there was a growing concern about preserving old masters paintings. Their slow destruction as centuries went by was considered irreversible. So
the French government made a decision to act and reproduce these masterpieces of the past under the threat of losing them forever. Several methods were offered: the copy in
mosaic, the copies on hard stones and on marble, and finally the ceramic which eventually prevailed. There was a lot of research, tests, fierce competition for commissions
which all led to ever growing quality of porcelain copies.
The colors were not at all the same before and after being fired, and some colors required higher temperatures than others. The artists needed a great amount of imagination
and technical skill in order to get everything right, and the results are astonishing.
Skilled porcelain artists enjoyed a good reputation in artistic circles and government under the popular notion of "preservation of national heritage".
The catalog of works made by Marie-Victoire Jaquotot shows two major categories of porcelain plaques: copies of "old masters" paintings admired by previous generations and
contemporary portraits. Raphael was by far the most copied artist, followed by Holbein, Mantegna, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Titian, Pierre Mignard, Champaigne, Tintoretto,
van Dyck, Van Loo, etc. , as well as the contemporaries such as Quentin of the Tower, Girodet, Gerard and Isabey.
The best quality was achieved in the early part of 19th century during so-called Empire Period. Back in 1817, the director of the Musée Royal agreed to lend major works of art to
Sèvres, enabling the Sevres painters to copy these works while within the walls of the factory.
In 1820, several examples of these plaques were exhibited in the Sèvres annual exhibition which displayed a selection of the most refined and exclusive works of the previous
year. The king regularly purchased pieces amongst these examples for himself or for gifts.
A number of these plaques are exhibited today in Sevres Ceramics Museum:
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