Volpato's Workshop

The workshop of Giovanni Trevisan known as “Volpato”, the famous engraver and manufacturer of art ceramics active towards the end of the eighteenth century, is documented by historical sources and by the papal monopoly granted in October 1786. This document allowed the artist to open a factory for the production of biscuit porcelain in Via Urbana 152, and protected him for 15 years against competitors in Rome and throughout the Papal States. The shop where his pieces were sold, by contrast, was located in Via dei Greci, in a strategic area near the Spanish Steps. Giovanni Volpato, a friend of Canova and confidant of emperors, czars and popes, invented the modern souvenir, the miniature replica of important ancient sculptures. His creations were disseminated throughout the world in the luggage of travellers on the Grand Tour, lovers of Italian art.
The archaeological excavations still underway in Via Urbana 152, undertaken for the construction of an underground garage, have brought to light some areas of the manufactory, where Volpato created his famous biscuit ceramics with the help of his sons: these were the first terracotta imitations of Chinese porcelain, pioneered by Volpato. An initial analysis of the materials found during the excavation, about ten thousand finds, have allowed us to identify a significant sample of the products of the Volpato manufactory in its first phase, the last fifteen years of the eighteenth century. Particularly important among his ceramics, made for a wide variety of uses, are his famous “desserts”, theatrical pieces consisting of small replicas of sculpture groups and objects from the Roman period, meant to adorn the tables of the nobility, laid for the consumption of sweets and desserts (hence the name). Hitherto very few artefacts ascribed with certainty to Volpato were known because the practice of marking the pieces was very limited; this is also evidenced by the materials found, among which less than ten fragments present the impressed mark. Alongside tableware, some moulds and fragments document a sample of the statuettes in the round that seem to be the most famous and most valuable product of Giovanni Volpato’s workshop, probably abandoned after his death. The rapid success and high quality of the pieces produced by Volpato led to them being advertised in the Times of London already in 1786. A detailed catalogue of the objects produced by the manufactory and their prices was already in circulation; a copy in French is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum of London.