As the hyper-contagious Delta variant threatens to complicate overseas travel once again, museums offer a local alternative for those who yearn to experience something different from their usual surroundings. In 2017, a supporter gave the Fine Arts Museums two dinner plates from the Views of Naples Service produced by the Naples Royal Porcelain Manufactory (1771–1806) ca.1792–1795 for King Ferdinand IV of Naples. To augment this significant gift, two groups of porcelain figures that once formed part of the service’s centerpiece were acquired in 2019. Although just fragments of the four-hundred-piece service, these plates and figures exemplify the imaginatively themed porcelain services produced during the eighteenth century and offer visitors to the Legion of Honor little windows onto the Bay of Naples.
Royal porcelain dinner services included all of the wares needed for an elaborate banquet, except for stemware and silver cutlery. As illustrated in table plans from Il cuoco galante, a dining manual published in 1773 by Vincenzo Corrado (1736–1836), who planned banquets at the Neapolitan court, a service would have been arranged concentrically on a table. The outermost tier would have comprised individual plates corresponding to the number of diners. A middle tier would have included shared serving dishes, such as tureens or sauce boats, while a sculptural centerpiece would have formed the innermost tier. The plates and figures in the FAMSF collection correspond to the Views of Naples Service’s outermost and innermost tiers, respectively. The design and decoration of a service, including its shapes, colors, patterns, and imagery, often embodied a central theme, such as “Classical,” “Etruscan,” or “Egyptian.” The wares and centerpiece of the Views of Naples Service adhere to a Neapolitan theme and together would have presented a broad survey of famous sights in Ferdinand IV’s domain.