Our Château des Bois Collection includes French ceramics or faïence, such as that produced by Gien and Blois, whose stylistic origins evoke the same Renaissance roots as the furniture in the Collection. Particularly in the case of Gien, its Renaissance collections can be traced directly back to maiolica produced in the 16th century in central Italy by workshops located in Urbino, Deruta, Gubbio, and Faenza.
Based in what began as a thriving medieval market town on the Loire River, the Gien factory was started in the 1820s by Thomas Antoine Edmé Hulme (a/k/a Hall) in the former monastery of Minim. In the years after the French revolution, when churches and monasteries were closed and the monks driven away, it was common to use monasteries as sites for factories. Gien was particularly attractive because of its proximity to the rivers and canals that were the backbones of 19th century commerce for transporting raw materials to the factory and shipping finished products to customers.
The original intent of the founders was to make English creamware (a soft-paste white porcelain). The Treaty of Vergennes (1786) placed confiscatory tariffs on French ceramics entering England but eliminated French tariffs on English products exported to France. The result was a collapse in the French ceramics industry until innovators such as Hall sought to make competing products in France and capitalize on the French taste for English designs.
Throughout the balance of the 19th century the Gien factory enjoyed tremendous success as an innovator in reproducing designs such as those popular in the Renaissance, created in Italian towns such as Urbino, Faenza, Gubbio and Deruta throughout the 16th century. The Gien designs incorporate typical Renaissance elements such as mythological beings, putti, garlands, masques, fish and coats of arms on white, black, brown and later blue backgrounds. While the ceramics works of central and northern Italy were championing this style, it was also prominent in France, especially in the works of Italian transplant Rosso Fiorentino for the Galerie François I at Fontainebleau Castle outside Paris.
While many styles were developed and the factory won numerous awards at the various world exhibitions held in Europe, the Renaissance pieces remained its most popular. Since its inception, Gien has been an innovator in techniques and materials; even supplying the white, blue and black tiles used in the Paris métro stations, many of which are still visible today and remain marvels for their durability and ease of cleaning.
Examples of the Renaissance faïence in our collection include the fond blanc (white background) pieces in the form of vases, plates, jardinières, etc. as well as pieces with a black background (rare) and brown background (extremely rare). The items with white background were among the first pieces made by Gien in the Renaissance style and are among the most faithful reproductions of the original Italian Urbinoware, much of which was already in collections in Lyon, La Rochelle and Paris as inspiration for the designers at Gien.
When the factory perfected the technique for making the rich, cobalt blue background (fond bleu) for the Renaissance designs, its output became more popular than ever and grew to include dinnerware, tea sets, serving pieces and numerous decorative items. In limited quantities, many of these items are still in production and can be seen on tours of the factory and its on-site museum. The factory has also produced objects in other styles as diverse as Chinese and Rouen. For information on visiting the factory, consult the English language version of the Gien factory website.
While we rarely see items of Gien in the U.S., imagine our surprise when a small lamp in the Renaissance fond bleu pattern was featured several times during the Mr. & Mrs. Teacup episode of the TV series The Americans on FX (April 18, 2018). Perhaps Jeannette Kim (Art Direction), Mila Khalevich (Set Decorator), or Dan Davis (Production Designer) is a Gien fan!
Similarly, a Gien vase from the same design series turned up in an upstairs bedroom on an episode in the final season of The Durrells on Corfu. It is hard to imagine a more remote locale in which Gien would be popular but we were delighted to see it!
Closer to home in France, a large white vase appeared on a pedestal in the entryway of "Château Newman" in the Bordeaux region during the episode of Le Sang de la Vigne entitled Pour qui sonne l'Angélus?
The following items are examples from what is currently in our Château des Bois Collection: