The SS Republic's cargo of religious wares included a number of a small unglazed porcelain kneeling angels. The angel of indeterminate sex kneels on a rectangular base that stylistically appears to represent a pillow or cushion. The angel's hands are clasped together next to the lips, with wings outstretched. The figure rests on both knees, wearing a long robe that covers the feet. The base bears traces of what appear to be bright red and black pigment, possibly the sole remnant of widespread paint, which has otherwise entirely eroded away in the marine environment. These small kneeling angel figurines were quite possibly intended as tokens or prizes for young Catholic students who performed their lessons well.
The religious porcelains were probably the product of one of the many 19th-century French Limoges porcelain factories mass producing goods for the American market. The method of manufacture is unknown, although it was probably cast in several pieces that were later joined. Molding in pieces, whether tableware (i.e. handles of cups) or figural objects, is a normal part of porcelain production. The separate pieces are then adhered together with liquid porcelain slip, after which any evidence of the connection is brushed away. Today, even Royal Doulton figurines, while appearing smooth and crafted of a single, continuous piece, are made by molding heads and arms separately and then attaching them to the main body – a process that is not apparent visually in the end product.
There are several practical reasons for manufacturing in separate pieces, not least the ability to stack together more efficiently in a single kiln heads, arms and wings of similar size and shape. These thinner, more fragile figurine parts are more liable to slump or crack in the kiln, so it would have been far less costly and time consuming if an unattached wing cracked during firing than that of a complete figurine, which have would have entailed discarding the entire piece.
Replicas of this artifact are available for purchase here.