The European Decorative Arts collection comprises approximately 7,000 objects, more than 1,300 of which are from the legendary collection of J. Pierpont Morgan. These include ancient glass and bronzes, Italian maiolica, Venetian and façon de venise glass, nautilus cups, ostrich-egg ewers, mounted ivories, silver-gilt vessels, Meissen porcelain, and Vincennes and Sèvres porcelain.
Other generous donors have given their collections to the Atheneum over the years. The museum has a large collection of ceramics, including Pre-Columbian pottery, Chinese export and domestic porcelain, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English pottery and porcelain, Berlin and Meissen Art Nouveau porcelain, and nineteenth-century Sèvres porcelain. Other highlights include English silver from the Elizabeth B. Miles Collection; ceramic veilleuses from The Harold and Wendy Newman Collection; and The Richard and Georgette A. Koopman Collection of Dutch Delft.
Among the ancient bronzes are an important archaic Greek Cloaked Warrior, a Hellenistic Running Fawn, a dog-headed Patera Handle, and a Roman figure of an Actor on an Altar. There are over 200 pieces of ancient glass in the collection, mostly Roman, that were all part of the important nineteenth-century Gréau collection. There is also Gallo-Roman pottery from the Gréau collection.
The maiolica collection comprises 49 of the over 100 pieces originally in Morgan’s collection. Highlights include two grand vases and two large platters from Urbino, a Presepio from about 1500, and a large oak-leaf jar from Florence from 1431. Seventeenth-century silver and silver-gilt objects, including mounted nautilus shells, ostrich eggs, and ivories, represent the type of objects displayed on dining room buffets and in collector’s cabinets of the period. A silver-mounted ebony Cabinet made in Nuremburg about 1620 would have housed someone’s jewels and trinkets, while a mid-seventeenth century Augsburg Platter by David Bessmann would have reflected the wealth of its owner when displayed at feasts and banquets. Among the 36 pieces European glass from Morgan’s collection is an important sixteenth-century Venetian Pilgrim Flask with enamel decoration of figures, animals, and cherubs.
Morgan’s German porcelain collection is primarily from the Meissen factory near Dresden, and includes an extremely rare and monumental garniture of early relief-molded vases, and a life-size birdcage. Over 200 figures portray a diverse range of subject matter: the Italian Comedy, Chinoiseries, animals, courtly genre scenes, and pastoral groups. A multi-figured centerpiece representing the Judgment of Paris probably was made for Frederick the Great of Prussia in the 1760s, and a pair of large-scale Busts of Franciscan Saints was made for the papal nuncio at the Dresden Court, Cardinal Albani.
The French porcelain collection boasts almost 300 important eighteenth-century works from the Saint-Cloud, Chantilly, Villeroy-Mennecy, Vincennes and Sèvres factories. Important highlights include a Sèvres Vase Cloche made in 1763, which once belonged to Madame de Pompadour; a biscuit sculpture made in 1755 at Vincennes, portraying Madame de Pompadour in the guise of friendship; and a Fountain and Basin that once belonged to a member of Louis XV’s family.