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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–An Update on Meissen

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Two-Handled Urn, 1814-60. Porcelain with hand-painted overglaze decoration and gilding. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.248. Photo credit: John R. Glembin
Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Two-Handled Urn, 1814-60. Porcelain with hand-painted overglaze decoration and gilding. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.248. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

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.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Porcelain Tankards

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Possibly Johann Gregorius Horoldt (German, 1696-1775), Tankard, ca. 1725. Glazed porcelain, polychrome overglaze decoration, gilding, and brass. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1995.2. Photo: John  Glembin
Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Possibly Johann Gregorius Horoldt (German, 1696-1775), Tankard, ca. 1725. Glazed porcelain, polychrome overglaze decoration, gilding, and brass. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1995.2. Photo: John Glembin

[Last month, the Milwaukee Art Museum put on view three important Meissen tankards. Learn more about two of them with this re-posted entry from 2014.]

Previously, we demystified tin-glazed earthenware while putting it into a historical context. In this post, we’ll figure out the magic behind the material that tin-glazed earthenware attempted to fill in for: porcelain.

Introduced to Europe from China in the fourteenth century, porcelain was the most elegant and fascinating of materials. It was pristine, white yet translucent, and although it was thin and light-weight, it was also amazingly strong and durable. In other words, it was everything that tin-glazed earthenware and stoneware was not.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, Two-Handled Urn

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Two-Handled Urn, 1814-60. Porcelain with hand-painted overglaze decoration and gilding. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.248. Photo credit: John R. Glembin
Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Two-Handled Urn, 1814-60. Porcelain with hand-painted overglaze decoration and gilding. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.248. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

Last week, we looked an amazing example of large-scale Meissen porcelain sculpture.  This time, we’ll look at another beautiful work of Meissen, this two-handled urn.

This sizable object has a great presence (it’s about a foot tall).  What immediately draws attention is the beautifully painted decoration.  The base and rim are painted in a Renaissance revival-style panel with purple-pink and light olive green tones highlighted with the white of the porcelain and shiny gilding. And then there is the main frieze, which shows an ancient Greek myth called the Calydonian Boar Hunt.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, Augustus III, King of Poland

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710). Augustus III, King of Poland, 18th century. Glazed porcelain, with polychrome overglaze decoration, and gilding, 30 × 16 1/2 × 13 1/4 in. (76.2 × 41.91 × 33.66 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.364. Photo credit: John R. Glembin
Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710). Augustus III, King of Poland, 18th century. Glazed porcelain, with polychrome overglaze decoration, and gilding, 30 × 16 1/2 × 13 1/4 in. (76.2 × 41.91 × 33.66 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.364. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

Believe it or not, this imposing sculpture is made out of a material that we usually associate with teacups and figurines for our end tables.  That’s right–this two-and-a-half feet tall man is made out of porcelain!

But it’s not just any porcelain.  It’s porcelain made at the factory in Meissen, Germany.  You may remember Meissen as one of the most important names in European porcelain production from my series on German drinking vessels.

Just to recap, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, was obsessed with porcelain and purchased huge amounts of Chinese and Japanese examples for his palaces in Dresden. But he, like so many rulers in Europe, wanted to be able to make what was dubbed as “white gold” for himself.

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Art Curatorial

German Tankards and Steins: Part 4—Porcelain

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Possibly Johann Gregorius Horoldt (German, 1696-1775), Tankard, ca. 1725. Glazed porcelain, polychrome overglaze decoration, gilding, and brass. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1995.2. Photo: John Glembin
Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Possibly Johann Gregorius Horoldt (German, 1696-1775), Tankard, ca. 1725. Glazed porcelain, polychrome overglaze decoration, gilding, and brass. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1995.2. Photo: John Glembin

Last month, we demystified tin-glazed earthenware while putting it into a historical context. This month, we’ll figure out the magic behind the material that tin-glazed earthenware attempted to fill in for: porcelain.

Introduced to Europe from China in the fourteenth century, porcelain was the most elegant and fascinating of materials. It was pristine, white yet translucent, and although it was thin and light-weight, it was also amazingly strong and durable. In other words, it was everything that tin-glazed earthenware and stoneware was not.