Ron W. Fuchs II, Washington and Lee University
This ADAF Lecture will take place on Zoom, please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend and we will email you the link.
Cups with Great Seal of the United States Made in China, about 1795 Made of Hard-Paste Porcelain Reeves Collection
Saucer with the Arms of Fauntleroy Made in China, about 1755 Made of Hard-Paste Porcelain Reeves Collection
Coats of arms were symbols of personal identity and family pride, and an important part of visual culture in 17th-, 18th– and 19th-century America. A Call to Arms: Armorial Ceramics in America will look at the fashion for ceramics decorated with coats of arms and other personalized devices, and set them in their larger cultural context.
As their wealth and ties to a trans-Atlantic economy increased, elite Americans mimicked affectations of the English nobility. Although only a tiny percentage of colonists could legitimately claim the right to display a coat of arms, aspirational Americans incorporated “adopted” coats of arms for adornment of needlework, book plates and silver, as well as their china, all items themselves signifiers of wealth, erudition and sophistication. Elegant china table settings, in a room specifically set aside for dining, on the hosts’ bountiful dining table served to impress one’s guests. Tea tables similarly served as staging for the ritual sharing of exotic beverages, tea, coffee and chocolate. The irony, of course, is that American reliance on coats of arms of the English nobility, and pseudo-armorial devices, was a peculiarly American demonstration of refinement.
The American Revolution together with vastly increased direct trade with China conspired to transform the appearance of armorial porcelains. Simple shields with the initials of a newly married couple supplanted detailed family coats of arms. Military service to one’s country supplanted nobility as an essential element for armorial ceramic services.