Lot 4. A rare Meissen Böttger stoneware teapot and cover, circa 1710-13;9.5cm high. Estimate: £30,000 - £50,000 (€ 34,000 - 56,000). Sold for £ 35,062 (€ 39,087). © Bonhams
The bell-shaped body with an ear-shaped handle and curved spout, engraved, cut and polished with foliate motifs and dots scroll- and strapwork below a border of swags around the shoulder and dots below the rim, the spout, handle and flat cover similarly decorated (tiny chip to tip of spout).
Note: For a detailed discussion of the cutting and faceting of Böttger stoneware, see Rainer Rückert, Biographische Daten der Meißener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts (1990), pp. 90-92. Böttger engaged artists in Dresden as well as from Bohemia, and the work - after Böttger's own designs - was carried out in Dresden as well as in the Albrechtsburg in Meissen. The shape is based on a Chinese, Kangxi (1662-1722) teapot with underglaze-blue decoration from the collection of Augustus the Strong with the Japanese Palace inventory number N:549 (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Porzellansammlung, inv. no. PO 2684). Numerous examples of the shape (called 'Glocken Thee Krügel' are listed in the 1711 inventory of the manufactory (C. Boltz, Formen des Böttgersteinzeugs im Jahre 1711, in Mitteilungsblatt der Keramikfreunde der Schweiz 96 (1982), p. 23), and three are listed in the inventory of the Japanese Palace under no. 149: 'Drey Stück [Thee Potgen] runde geschliffene, different, mit Deckel, Henckel und Schnauze, wovon eins mit einem silbernen Kettel versehen, 4 1/2. Zoll och, 3 1/2. Zoll in Diam: No. 149 [three (tea pots) round, polished, different, with cover, handle and spout, of which one is decorated with a silver chain] (quoted by C. Boltz, Japanisches Palais-Inventar 1770 und Turmzimmer-Inventar 1769, in Keramos 153 (1996), p. 106). Two similar teapots remain in the Dresden collection (inv. nos. P.E. 783 and P.E. 5756, the first is published by I. Menzhausen, Alt-Meißner Porzellan in Dresden (1988), no. 6). Another was sold by Sotheby's Zürich, 21 November 1990, lot 39.
Francesco Bernardi, called 'il Senesino' was born in Siena in 1686, and started his musical careeer when he joined the cathedral choir at the Duomo in Siena in 1695. He was castrated at the relatively late age of 13. His debut was in Venice in 1707, and during the next decade his European reputation grew. By the time he sang in Lotti's Giove in Argo in 1717 at Dresden, he could command an equally enormous salary of 7000 Thaler. It was during this time that he most likely acquired or was given the Böttger stoneware teapot.
As with many castrati, reports of Senesino's acting were not always positive, to say the least. The impresario Count Francesco Zambeccari wrote of his performance in Naples in 1715: "Senesino continues to comport himself badly enough; he stands like a statue, and when occasionally he does make a gesture, he makes one directly the opposite of what is wanted." Of the singer's vocal abilities, however, there was no doubt. In 1719, the composer Quantz heard him in Lotti's Teofane at Dresden, and stated: "He had a powerful, clear, equal and sweet contralto voice, with a perfect intonation and an excellent shake. His manner of singing was masterly and his elocution unrivaled. ... he sang allegros with great fire, and marked rapid divisions, from the chest, in an articulate and pleasing manner. His countenance was well adapted to the stage, and his action was natural and noble. To these qualities he joined a majestic figure; but his aspect and deportment were more suited to the part of a hero than of a lover."
Following a dispute with the court composer Heinichen in 1720 over an aria in the opera Flavio Crispo that led to his dismissal, Senesino was engaged by Handel as primo uomo (lead male singer) in his company, the Royal Academy of Music. He made his first appearance in a revival of Radamisto on 28 December, and his salary was variously reported as between £2000 and 3000 guineas, both vast sums. Senesino remained in London for much of the following sixteen years. He became a friend and associate of many in the highest levels of society. He was friendly with, among others, the Duke of Chandos, Lord Burlington and William Kent, and amassed a fine collection of paintings, rare books, scientific instruments, and other treasures, including a service of silver made by the famous Paul de Lamerie.
Although he appeared in seventeen leading roles for Handel (including Giulio Cesare, Orlando, and Bertarido in Rodelinda), his relationship with the composer was frequently stormy: "The one was perfectly refractory; the other was equally outrageous," according to the contemporary historian, Mainwaring. After the break-up of Handel's Royal Academy in 1728, Senesino sang in Paris (1728) and Venice (1729), but was re-engaged by Handel in 1730, singing in four new operas and in the oratorios Esther, Deborah, and, in its 1732 bilingual version, Acis and Galatea. His antipathy to Handel eventually became so great that, in 1733, Senesino joined the rival Opera of the Nobility. Thus he came to sing alongside the great soprano castrato Farinelli.
Senesino left England in 1736, and appeared in a few more productions in Italy: he sang in Florence from 1737 to 1739, and then in Naples until 1740, making his final appearance in Porpora's Il trionfo di Camilla at the Teatro San Carlo. By this time his singing style was regarded by the public as rather old-fashioned. He retired to the city of his birth, building a fine town-house there, filled with English furniture and effects - he enjoyed tea (he ran, or at least tried to run his whole household on English lines), and kept a black servant, a pet monkey and a parrot.