Rafaelle Monti ‘The Mother’
In the 1840s a number of leading factories in Stoke-on-Trent were experimenting with a fine, unglazed porcelain body of brilliant whiteness. The marble-like texture of the porcelain surface was seen as ideal for reproducing both antique and modern sculptures. In 1845 the firm of Copeland & Garrett was able to exhibit its ‘Statuary Porcelain’ which went into commercial production the following year. By the end of the decade several other firms were producing a very similar body and marketing it to emphasise its similarity to marble. Wedgwood called their new body ‘Carrara’ after the Italian marble from northern Italy, while Minton marketed their product as ‘Parian’ due to its similarity to marble from the Greek island of Paros. It was this latter name which, within a few years, came to be used to describe all the unglazed marble-like porcelains, whoever made them.
From the first parian was used to reproduce statuary. Reduced copies of antique works and those by modern artists were copied and thousands of different models were made. Prices for these reproductions ranged from a few shillings to several guineas and although not cheap, they were regarded as an affordable way for the middle classes to acquire ‘good art’. The leading potteries of Stoke-on-Trent vied to produce works by the most popular artists of the day, several of whom are now better known because of their parian figures than for their original marble sculptures.
One of the most popular figures at the Potteries Museum is that of a Mother and Child by the Italian artist Rafaelle Monti.
Born in Milan, Italy, in 1818 Monti worked in Austria, Germany, and, briefly, England during the 1840s. In 1847 he returned to Italy where he was involved in the abortive War of Italian Independence, supporting the King of Sardinia against the Austrian empire which then controlled Milan and northern Italy. On the failure of this war he fled to England with his wife and daughter, remaining in England until his death in 1881
His reputation as a sculptor led to him being commissioned by the Crystal Palace Company to produce two fountains and six colossal statues for the Great Exhibition of 1851. A number of his other statues, loaned by private clients also decorated the exhibition halls.
One of Monti’s specialities was being able to give the illusion of transparent fabric in solid marble. In 1859 he produced a life-size veiled bust of a young woman. Popularly known as ‘The Bride’ it was reproduced in a reduced form in parian porcelain for the Ceramic and Crystal Palace Art Union by the firm of WT Copeland. Demand was such that a few years later Monti produced a group of a Mother and Child as a companion piece. In this the mother’s veil is drawn over the face of the sleeping child to shield it from the light. It too was reproduced by Copeland. The firm copied over fifteen of Monti’s sculpture in parian porcelain between 1861 and 1881.