Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The wholesale transportation of the Capodimonte porcelain factory to the palace of Buen Retiro, outside Madrid in 1759 was due to the paranoia of the early porcelain trade and the sovereign obligations of European royalty.

The death of Philip V of Spain had left his son Charles VII of Naples in a spot of bother. In order to rival the Meissen factory, founded by his wife’s grandfather Augustus the Strong, Charles VII had established the Capodimonte factory in 1743 after searching long and hard for suitable reserves of kaolin in Italy.

But when Philip V of Spain, died in 1759, the only way that Charles could succeed his father’s throne in Madrid and prevent the secret recipe for his Capodimonte porcelain from falling into rival hands was to destroy all traces of the original kilns in the woods above Naples and ship the moulds, models and artists to Spain.

Quite how this group then came to Britain is not known. Spanish porcelain is exceptionally scarce in this country. The lady and gentleman were hailed as “a Bourbon first for Woolley and Wallis” by auctioneer John Axford, who sold the group in Salisbury on February 27.

“You only see about five or six pieces of early Capodimonte turn up at British auctions each year,” he said. This piece of early (c.1760) Buen Retiro had the same appeal as first period Capodimonte – Italian painting on French-style porcelain. In perfect condition it could have commanded £40,000, but extensive damage and restoration (the female partner had been broken in three and reglued) kept bidding to £3800 (plus 15 per cent buyer’s premium).