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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Capodimonte カポディモンテ

Updated: Jan 14

This is one of my all time favourite costumes at the Venice Carnevale. In fact, this is the winner of the Best Costume Award at the Venice Carnevale in 2020. The title of this costume is called Capodimonte - named after the iconic Italian porcelain figures of the 1700s.

Capodimonte is a distinctive style of porcelain that stands apart from all the other ceramic traditions of southern Italy. This delicate, ornate porcelain--historically produced outside of Naples -- is immediately recognizable for its tiny pastel flowers, sprays of buds, baskets, and elegant figurines. Today Capodimonte is a popular collectible throughout Italy as well as abroad.

Capodimonte porcelain (sometimes "Capo di Monte") is porcelain created by the Capodimonte porcelain manufactory (Real Fabbrica di Capodimonte), which operated in Naples, Italy, between 1743 and 1759. Capodimonte is the most outstanding factory for early Italian porcelain, the Doccia porcelain of Florence being the other main Italian factory. Capodimonte is most famous for its moulded figurines. The factory began producing full sets of tableware, vases and other vessels, as well as small decorative objects and figurines in a Baroque style typical of the mid-eighteenth century. In that early period of Capodimonte, snuffboxes were among the factory’s most popular items. Figures of theatre characters such as Pulcinella, as well as Neapolitan peasants engaged in dancing, daily chores, and other pastoral activities, were also popular.

The porcelain of Capodimonte, and later Naples, was a "superb" translucent soft-paste, "more beautiful" but much harder to fire than the German hard-pastes, or "a particularly clear, warm, white, covered with a mildly lustrous glaze". The Capodimonte mark was a fleur-de-lys in blue, or impressed in relief inside a circle.

The entire Capodimonte factory was moved to Madrid (and became the Real Fábrica del Buen Retiro) after its founder, King Charles, inherited the Spanish throne from his brother in 1759. Strictly speaking, this was the end of "Capodimonte porcelain", but the reputation of the factory's products was so high that the name is often claimed and used for porcelain made in other factories in or around Naples.

The first of these was the new royal factory established by Charles' son Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, which manufactured from 1771 until 1806. This is generally known as Naples porcelain, officially the "Naples Royal Porcelain Manufactory" (Real fabbrica delle porcellane di Napoli) or Real Fabbrica Ferdinandea. Since the 19th century, a number of other factories have used the name, for a wide variety of wares, with a great range of quality. This second Capodimonte manufactory remained active until the French took Naples in 1806.

The large porcelain manufacture known as Doccia or Ginori, on the western outskirts of Florence, acquired what was left of Capodimonte production in the nineteenth century. In 1896, the Milanese firm Società Ceramica Richard incorporated the Doccia porcelain works, and the company became known as Richard-Ginori. The company continued to produce Capodimonte and use the royal Neapolitan trademark until recent times. Richard-Ginori declared bankruptcy in January 2013, and was purchased by Gucci.

Today, Capodimonte porcelain remains popular among collectors, and the value lies partly in the marks on the undersides of each piece. Authentic, antique pieces originating from one of the royal manufactories commonly sell for several thousand Euro at auction, while lower-quality, mass-produced works in the style of historic Capodimonte are worth very little.

The original costumers were a pair of children, a boy and a girl, aged 12 when they made their costume debut. I saw them at Cafe Florian but did not get the opportunity to speak to them as it was immensely crowded that evening. Thereafter, all Carnevale activities soon came to a stop because of the pandemic. The mayor told everyone to cut short the celebrations and to go home. I managed to track the original model down and contacted his mother. After a few chats online and a formal meeting in Venice this year, she agreed to bring back the costume for me. However, there was a few problems, young Ricardo who was the original model is now aged 15 and has grown quite a bit to fit into the costume. So the lady got her friend's son Leonardo, aged 11 to dress up for me. Shy at times and full of confidence at other times, Leonardo is a real charmer and a real joy to photograph. He would burst into genuine smiles and laughter each time he sees his image at the back of my camera. And sadly, we are unable to find a girl to dress up as the other half.

This is the entire costume set up, with a base stand - just like the original Capodimonte figurines on their stand. I am particularly attracted to the cyan blue baroque costume, I think there was some clothes made by Gucci in the past few seasons with similar colors. The Capodimonte children - both Leonardo (and previously Ricardo) have signature poses typical to those seen in Capodimonte figurines. Obviously, the children know their art well. Initially, I thought the pair were Romeo and Juliet, but Ricardo told me the theme of the costumes is actually Capodimonte.

Costumes are made by famous Italian tailor Angelo Poretti.

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