Mary II at her Toilette

If an image of Queen Mary II comes to mind, it is not usually one of her at a dressing table. This post explores an unusual ceramic object depicting Mary in this way, manufactured in China in the eighteenth century.

After being jointly crowned King and Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland on 11 April 1689, William III and Mary II used visual imagery to legitimise their rule. Public support of the couple was precarious following the Glorious Revolution, so creating a unified image of strength and continuation was especially necessary. The official imagery was copied and circulated by makers of visual culture, whose products included ceramics and mezzotint prints. The Chinese plate, as we will discover, demonstrates a fashion for collecting images of Mary II that continued long after her death. Items like this help us to understand the roles of visual and material culture in seventeenth-century society.

Above and right: these are mezzotint copies of the official coronation portraits of William III and Mary II, made by popular artists John Faber Jr and William Faithorne Jr, respectively. Held in the National Portrait Gallery, these are only two examples of the highly reproduced original portraits painted by Godfrey Kneller in 1698.

Kevin Sharpe argues that in the late seventeenth century ‘there was an informed market and audience for visuals, which presented the monarch with a further opportunity and incentive to represent his rule and his policies in and through visual media.’[i] Commemorative objects like tankards and dishes displaying images of the royal family fulfilled this ‘market,’ fuelled by the newly established middling classes who had increased access to and desire for decorative items. Although objects depicting previous monarchs were already circulating in England, wares with images of Mary and William were made and transported in the Netherlands also, due to William’s simultaneous position as Dutch stadtholder and Mary’s as his consort. Similarly, these were manufactured by potteries not associated with or patronised by the royal family. Styles of glazed pottery established in the Netherlands, such as Delftware, influenced those used for commemorative ceramics in England. Artisans and potteries of all scales used styles like Delftware and stoneware to rapidly reproduce the ‘official’ image of the royals, but the objects were still unique. Hand-painting allowed for varied representations which comprised of symbols sometimes added to the copied form of the King or Queen. Moreover, unofficial prints of the royals, that were not based on official portraits, were also copied by ceramic makers.

An image of Mary replicated from a print is seen in a porcelain dish made in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China during the Qianlong period. It was obtained by the school after a donation of Chinese porcelain by a former student. Unlike the many decorative objects depicting Mary II that still exist today, it does not share the same material or approximate date of creation, which usually falls within Mary’s lifetime of 1663-1694. Nor does it share Mary’s usual representation, which is based on Kneller’s coronation portrait exemplified above. This dish is instead based on an engraving by Antoine Trouvain from 1694 which shows Mary at her toilette, a typical fashion plate design popular in Holland and France usually adapted to represent different women in the public eye.[ii] Here, the image faces the opposite way to the original print, and the delicate rendering of the queen’s form is emphasised by overglaze enamels in the famille rose palette. The careful painting techniques used on this porcelain couldn’t be further in style and execution from England’s tin-glazed earthenware alternatives, despite their aim to emulate Chinese and Japanese ceramics. In a process that scholars have dubbed ‘interculturation’, Dutch and English potters produced goods that intended to mimic those from the ‘East,’ whilst Chinese and Japanese makers borrowed forms and designs from European examples to make their goods attractive for the English and Dutch markets.[iii]  Thus, it can be assumed that this dish was made for a European audience, one which fetishized goods from Japan and China. By putting a plate such as this on display, the owner would not only demonstrate their partaking in the latest fashions, but their own wealth and status. Owning and displaying porcelain items suggested an ability to purchase high value artefacts which highlighted Britain’s empirical connections.

This popular plate design was made in multiples, by different (now mostly unknown) pottery houses between 1689-1694. It is based on Kneller’s portrait above, with added symbols of the Dutch republic. This particular tin-glazed earthenware charger is located at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
This beautiful porcelain dish from Jingdezhen, China was made in the eighteenth century and is kept at the Treasury of Winchester College. It is based on Antoine Trouvain’s print of the same design from 1694, held at the Rijksmuseum (below right).

As we have seen, the symbiosis between print, politics and ceramics existed outside of Britain and Europe.[iv] Indeed, English monarchs (or English/Dutch in William and Mary’s case) were not the only ones to appear on decorative and functional objects, as explored by many scholars of seventeenth-century material culture. The popularity of these commemorative objects during the reign of Mary and William could be due to their status as saviours of Protestantism.[v] If this is the case Mary, her advisors, and supporters achieved exactly what they set to achieve: to create an image of stability, heroism, and contingency to counteract the anxiety caused by James’ conversion to Catholicism and the resulting Glorious Revolution. The creation of this dish shows this image was still powerful even well beyond her death in 1694, and that it successfully travelled across the globe. Although there is no doubt a political element to making commemorative items such as those mentioned in this post, individual makers and larger potteries responded to a consumer demand that had been building throughout the seventeenth century. The bodily experiences of consuming goods, such as seeing and touching, brought members of the public closer to their ruler.[vi] Moreover, collecting and displaying ‘exotic’ goods like this plate was seen to bolster the status of the owner.

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By Holly Marsden, University of Winchester and Historic Royal Palaces, UK.

Holly is in the third year of her AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD, based at the University of Winchester and Historic Royal Palaces. Her thesis is entitled ‘The Multiple Identities of Queen Mary II: Queenship, Culture and Politics in the Seventeenth Century.’ Current projects include working on Kensington Palace’s upcoming exhibition ‘Crown to Couture.’ She undertook her Master’s in Queer History at Goldsmiths, University of London and past projects include being a founding member of the Team Queens academic collective, working on Historic Royal Palace’s ‘Queer Lives’ interactive theatre tours and assisting on the National Portrait Gallery’s re-opening project ‘Inspiring People.’

[i] Kevin Sharpe, Rebranding Rule: The Restoration and Revolution Monarchy, 1660-1714 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), p. 411.

[ii] Antoine Trouvain, Portret van Maria II Stuart, 1694, Rijksmuseum, RP-P-1906-2660.

[iii] Anne Gerritsen, ‘Domesticating Goods from Overseas: Global Material Culture in the Early Modern Netherlands’, Journal of Design History, 29(2016), 228-244, p. 237; Dutch ‘wisselwerkingen’ as discussed by Christiaan J. A. Jorg, Wisselwerkingen – Rede uitgesproken bij de aanvaarding van de ambt van bijzonder hoorgleraar Materiele Geschiedenis van Wisselwerkingen tussen Azie en Europa aan de Faculteit der letteren van de Rijksuniversiteit Leiden (Leiden: Universiteit van Leiden, 1998).

[iv] Patricia Ferguson, Pots, Prints and Politics: Ceramics with an Agenda, from the 14th to the 20th Century (London: British Museum Research Publications, 2021), 1.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Gerritsen, ‘Goods from Overseas’, 232.



Cite this blog post
courtstudies (2023, June 21). Mary II at her Toilette. The Court Observer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/n6us

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