It’s always exciting when new research comes to light! Just last month, while preparing for a lecture on Meissen in the Milwaukee Art museum collection, I discovered new information related to an object from an earlier post, the Meissen urn at left.
When last researching the urn in 2015, I was pretty sure that it was made by Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, the important German company, because it was marked on the bottom with crossed swords in blue. It has the snake handles popular on these types of vessels, particularly in the nineteenth century. The scene on the vase is the Greek myth of the Calydonian boar hunt.
At the time, I thought that maybe our urn was a Meissen porcelain blank painted by a skilled artist not associated with the factory–this was based upon finding another vase with the same boar hunt online that was only identified as “German”.
But the high quality of the painting on our urn made it such a showpiece, that I was convinced that there was more to find. So, when I was asked to give a lecture on Meissen in the collection, I thought I’d take another look.
During my research three years ago, I had found a photograph of a vessel in the same shape (below left) in a history of Meissen published in 1911 and edited by Dr. K. Berling. The shape was modeled by Ernst August Leuteritz (German, 1818–1893), who invigorated Meissen’s lagging sales by introducing neoclassical shapes.
The urn in the book, however, has a main frieze decorated in a style that is called “Limoges” painting. This means that it is a monochromatic image created in white enamel on a blue background, in imitation of Renaissance and Baroque enamels on metal from France. Another vase illustrated, of a different shape (above right), was also monochromatic, but used platinum paint on a tortoise-shell background.
The photograph confirmed what I had known from the marks on the bottom of our urn–it was Meissen. The boar hunt frieze, however, was not in monochrome but in exuberant polychrome (multiple colors).
I did a number of keyword searches on the internet for Meissen and boar hunt, but I wasn’t coming up with anything helpful except for the vase with the same frieze but different shape that I mentioned above. So, I left the object information on our urn just as Meissen.
Fast forward to 2018. After looking through my file on the urn, I thought I’d do an image search for Meissen and Leuteritz. And, low and behold, this came up:
A beautiful pair of vases in the same shape as ours, decorated in the monochromatic decoration of Limoges painting mentioned in the Berling book.
The same search done directly at Sotheby’s past lot archive on their website came up with this:
An exact match for our urn! The Sotheby’s entry not only confirmed that the shape was modeled by Leuteritz, but it also said that the painting was most likely done by the most talented and best known decorator at Meissen at the time, Carl August Müller (German, 1813–1885), after an unlocated painting by well-known German painter Eduard Julius Bendemann (1811–1889). Bendemann painted in the smooth, well-modeled style taught at the European Academies. He was a professor at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts and later the director of the Dusseldorf Academy. Here’s one of his paintings, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Germany.
I also learned from both catalogue entries that the version illustrated in the 1911 book I mentioned above was shown by Meissen at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It was so well-received at the Exposition that it was illustrated in the catalogue released in 1868 (below). The description described it as is a “vase of great beauty, both in form and in the art that adorns it.”
According to Sotheby’s, the polychrome versions of Meissen in this type are more rare than the monochromatic.
Amazingly enough, a vase decorated similarly but with a different scene and with a different shape sold in 2017 at Sotheby’s. In 2014, they sold another vase with a boar hunt just like ours:
With this new information, I was able to update the cataloguing for our fantastic Meissen urn (now renamed Two-Handled Crater Vase to more accurately reflect the form):
Isn’t it exciting?!?
What’s crazy, though, is I discovered the vase just like ours had sold at Sotheby’s in 2005. Why had none of those results come up with my previous searches?
Any online search—whether it’s by a keyword in Google or by an author name in WorldCat or by a journal title in Hathitrust—gives you the right results only if you search for the right thing. I tried to remember—in 2015 did I try using the name “Leuteritz” in any of my searches? Or was I focused on the subject matter? It’s funny, but I don’t really remember.
But there is flip side to this. There have been times when I’m doing long-term research and each time I search a certain set of keywords different results pop up. My searches could be a day apart or weeks apart, it doesn’t matter. And, although I haven’t seen certain results before, they aren’t necessarily “new”. Welcome to the world of the algorithm. Getting sources based upon mathematical equations is very different than when I was in graduate school and you found new sources by combing bibliographies and foot notes. To do the best research, we now have to do both.
Maybe the best moral of this story, however, is that we are at the mercy of what is available with digital resources just as we are with paper resources. You can’t find a digital source if it isn’t searchable, and you can’t use a paper source if it hasn’t been catalogued or has been distroyed. That’s why studying art is such an exciting challenge. You never know when you are going to make that next great discovery!
Catherine Sawinski is the Assistant Curator of European Art. When not handling the day-to-day running of the European art department and the Museum’s Fine Arts Society, she researches the collection of Ancient and European artwork before 1900.