It was royal vanity that elevated the tureen from a simple pot to a work of art.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, those of royal blood and great wealth competed with one another to have the most beautiful, the most extravagant, the most outlandish containers for their soup.
Now you can see the results of their whims in an exhibit -- "Service in Style: Soup Tureens from the Campbell Museum Collection" -- which opened last Wednesday at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The exhibit consists of 75 tureens on loan from the collection owned by the Campbell Soup Company and housed in a museum at the company headquarters in Camden, N.J. The Campbell Museum, which opened 22 years ago, contains an internationally renowned collection of nearly 400 soup tureens plus bowls and ladles.
The BMA exhibit includes items made of ornate porcelain and silver during the 18th century and used at royal tables in Russia, Poland, France, England and the Netherlands. Craftsmen were not content to make tureens in the traditional round shapes, but went on to make them in the shapes of swans, roosters, hens and rabbits.
There will be a gallery talk on the exhibit today at 3 p.m. given by a BMA docent. The lecture is free with museum admission.
The exhibit will be the focus of a Singles Sunday, "Soup and Circumstance," today at 3:30 p.m. The fee is $20 per person; $10 for museum members. After a gallery talk, there will be refreshments. On Wednesday the exhibit will be the subject of a Seniors Art Walk at 2 p.m. This event is free for senior citizens with museum admission. Reservations are required.
There will be a children's class and children's workshop based on the animal imagery found on the tureens. The class will be held on three consecutive Saturdays beginning March 28 at noon. The fee is $25 ($20 for members). The workshop will take place on April 12 at 2 p.m. The event is free for children ages 7 to 12 with museum admission.
On April 14 at 6 p.m., Ralph Collier, president of the Campbell Museum, will give a lecture entitled "Kings and Queens and Soup Tureens."
The Baltimore Museum of Art is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The main telephone number is (410) 396-7100. Call (410) 396-6320 to make reservations for the Senior Art Walk or the children's class.