The Fitzwilliam Museum is home to one of the most important collections of European, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern ceramics in the United Kingdom. Entirely absent in the Founder’s Bequest, ceramics from all periods and geographic locations were actively collected under the directorship of Sir Sydney Cockerell (1908-37) and continue to be acquired today. Both earthenware (Iznik, Minai, Italian Maiolica, Delft, Staffordshire, etc.) and porcelain (Ming, Imari, Meissen, Sèvres, Chelsea, etc.) are represented in the collection in myriad forms, from tableware and tiles to vases and sculptures. Amongst the collections on display are pieces from the finest manufacturers and most talented decorators, many of which were commissioned for patrons who were arbiters of taste in their times. Acquired from the some of the most prolific nineteenth- and twentieth-century British collectors, the collection also embodies connoisseurial tastes for ceramics in the United Kingdom.
A versatile material first manufactured by the Mesopotamians, glass has been used for various purposes and in numerous forms in Europe and Asia and the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collection comprises over 1000 pieces. The oldest glass objects in the Department of Applied Arts are beads from the Warring States Period (5th-3rd centuries B.C.) in China. Apart from this, most of the Far Eastern collection of glass comes from the 18th and 19th centuries, and comprises a variety of objects including bowls, jars and bottles. Other significant medieval and early-modern collections of glass include Middle Eastern glass vessels from Syria, Egypt and Persia and late medieval European stained glass. The museum also houses a collection of fine cristallo glass from Venice and Continental Europe as well as later lead-glass drinking glasses and decanters from England. Through the generous gifts of benefactors such as Nicholas and Judith Goodison, the museum also boasts an impressive collection of studio glass.
The Museum’s holdings of enamels includes objects from China, France, Italy, Germany and England. They illustrate most of the major manufacturing techniques, including cloisonné, champlevé, basse taille, en ronde bosse, painted, and plique-à-jour, and range in date from the 12th to the 20th century. Many are made of copper, but some have brass, silver or gold as the base onto which the enamels (basically different kinds of translucent or opaque coloured glass) were applied and fired. They include objects for ecclesiastical and domestic use or display, and for personal adornment.
The most significant groups are Limoges Medieval champlevé, and Renaissance and later painted enamels, received as part of major bequests from Frank McClean (1904), C.B. Marlay (1912), L.D. Cunliffe (1937) and L.C. G. Clarke (1960) and various gifts. These enamels include examples by the Pénicaud workshop, Léonard Limosin, Colin Nouailher, Martial Ydeux, Pierre Reymond, Pierre Courteys, the I.C. workshop, Jacques I Laudin, and Jean-Baptiste Nouailher. The French 19th-century revival of enamelling is represented by a Parisian tazza by Charles Lepec, which formerly belonged to the English collector, Alfred Morrison, and was purchased with the Leverton Harris Fund.
The English enamels include a rare brass and champlevé enamel candlestick of about 1650-70, a few mid- and late18th-century South Staffordshire painted enamels, mainly from the Marlay and Clarke Bequests.
The museum’s substantial collections of watches, snuffboxes, rings, mourning- and other jewellery, includes many items incorporating enamelled decoration, such as a pendant by the Scottish enameller, Pheobe Traquair given by Mrs J. Hull Grundy in 1983.