The primary centre of ceramics production with subject matter from the Greek War of Independence is France.
Indeed, a large part of the allure of these plates lies in the fact that they constitute, in a way, the sum of several heterogeneous factors which, without exception, essentially contributed in creating a truly unique outcome. Its onset goes back to their manufacturing technique which reveals a longstanding history going back to the Middle East and disseminating to Europe much later, through Spain and Italy in the first place. Finally, it was also introduced to France where, after the early sixteenth-century, it developed into a fundamental economic and artistic activity.. Moreover, when it comes to plates with philhellenic subjects, it is of particular interest that although addressed to the local market and were not intended for export, they opted for decorations illustrating a series of incidents from the Greek war of independence, revealing that it was much discussed in France at that time. Furthermore, considering that these were objects of mass production and not limited to the special interests of a small market, one can understand that it was a very popular subject which had attracted the audience’s sympathy. The huge success of these objects indicate the dynamism and popularity of philhellenism in France, not only among small groups of socially sensitive citizens, such as artists and intellectuals, but also on a larger scale.
According to Α. Amandry, there were three France faience factories which produced several series with subjects inspired by the Greek War of Independence, in Choisy le Roi, in Montereau and in Toulouse..
As it had been customary, factories launched for each principal subject, such as the so-called ‘Greek Revolution’, series of twelve plates. Each series would further diversify by several subseries which explored variations on the same subject (fig.2).
Nevertheless, each series varied even further by changing the decorative bands of the same composition or choosing different colour schemes. More specifically, Amandry distinguishes four series for the factory in Choisy le Roi, three monochromatic in black and white and one in yellow and black (fig.3). For the factory in Montereau, she sees 8 series, with 8 different decorative bands in several different colours (fig.4). Finally, as far as the factory in Toulouse is concerned, there are four series which varied, not only according to their different decorative bands, but also according to their seal. As a matter of fact, the VALENTIN seal denoted the firm’s second factory, further specifying their exact place of production (fig.5)..
The factory in Choisy le Roi (fig.6), seems to have been the first to introduce a series with philhellenic motifs around 1824. As a matter of fact, the lithographs used for the illustrations had been specially commissioned to the painter Loeillot, who had also been an active member of the French philhellenic community.. The motifs from Loeillot’s lithographs were used to a great degree by the Toulouse factory in its series produced around 1829, though the latter go for a free interpretation of the originals and do not strictly adhere to them..
Finally, the intermediate series of Montereau, are dated sometime after 1826 and before the battle of Navarino, most probably in 1827.. Moreover, it is considered that the series produced in Montereau were the ones that differentiated the most from Loeillot’s lithographs and were the most historical in tone, figuring the names of the heroes of the Revolution while the other two factories chose to stick to more generalized titles for the depicted episodes (fig. 7).
The Montereau series must have been the most successful, taking into account that it was more widely disseminated than both the other two. The composition was combined with a specially designed decorative band with strong philhellenic connotations consisting of laurel wreaths with the names of three Greek independence war heroes, matched with those of three philhellenes (fig. 8).
It must be noted that besides the plates, the same factories also produced numerous other ceramic objects, providing full sets, which included soup bowls, serving trays, jugs etc. All those objects also figure subjects similarly inspired by the Greek war of Independence.
Besides France, production of plates with philhellenic subjects has also been registered in Germany and Italy, as we can see in the following examples:
- The Schramberg factory in Germany.
- The Fontebasso factory in Treviso, Italy.
This shift to philhellenic subjects for the decoration of plates in the nineteenth century was relatively brief since, as expected, after the emergence of the newly-founded Greek state, people’s interest turned to other, more recent events. However, as far as the iconography was concerned, themes from classical Greece always remained among the most popular subjects.
Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge the intensity and the extent of that phenomenon. At that time, philhellenism constituted the expression of a genuine interest towards a people to which the Europeans felt very close to, despite the historical circumstances that have kept them apart for so long, an interest which was not limited to very small, isolated groups but, on the contrary, run through the entire society, notwithstanding social classes. The success of the production of plates with philhellenic subjects in France, Italy and Germany is an indisputable testament of that.
Amandry, Αγγελική, Η Ελληνική Επανάσταση σε γαλλικά κεραμικά του 19ου αι, Αθήνα, Πελοποννησιακό Λαογραφικό ίδρυμα, 1982.
Jean Rosen, La faïence en France du XIIIe au XIXe siècle: technique et histoire. ΗΑL Archives Ouvertes, pp.163, https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01973891/file/Rosen%202018.pdf, accessed 1 October 2019.
 Jean Rosen, La faïence en France du XIIIe au XIXe siècle: technique et histoire. ΗΑL Archives Ouvertes, pp.163, https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01973891/file/Rosen%202018.pdf, accessed 1 October 2019.