Anyone who has visited his amazing baroque palace in Dresden, and seen his collections, cannot fail to be impressed, as shown by Guy Michael Davis and The Arkansas Traveller. The Zwinger, for example, was designed by Matthaus Pöppelmann. It took from 1710 until 1728 for the three wings to be completed, used predominantly for impressive display galleries and libraries. It might have been a bit far-fetched to refer to Dresden as Florence on the Elbe, but Augustus would have loved the label.
Zwinger Porcelain Displays
Write Antiques proposed that as Augustus II was a great fan of the Chinese pots, he spent a fortune on purchasing a collection of 20,000 pieces. The collection utterly filled his palaces and storerooms. Chinese porcelain was clearly the definitive symbol of prestige, luxury and good taste. But Augustus could envisage a day when the royal budget could not afford another ship load of porcelain objects. He desperately needed to discover the secret of porcelain for himself, presumably with a view to producing the precious artwork in Dresden or Meissen.
My students will be reading Janet Gleeson’s book The Arcanum over the long holidays. I refer blog readers to it now. Gleeson investigated the invention of European porcelain and the founding of the Meissen Porcelain Manufacture outside Dresden. Here is the review from Publishers Weekly:
“Who would have thought that the story of porcelain would be such a rousing tale of wealth, intrigue and outrageous greed and gluttony? In a deserted German mountaintop castle called Albrechtsburg in the town of Meissen, a brilliant C18th apothecary and alchemist called Johann Frederick Bottger discovered the secret for making porcelain, which was the next best thing to gold at the time in Europe. Like many other alchemists then, Bottger had once untruthfully claimed to have found the secret formula for turning base metals into gold. But for Augustus, who promptly imprisoned the young scientist, the arcanum for porcelain or china, would have to suffice. Gleeson's story of how Meissen became the West's first porcelain centre follows a colourful cast of characters: the lascivious Augustus; two rival decorative artists, Johann Gregorius Horoldt and Johann Kaendler, who applied their skills as diligently against each other as they did in creating precious porcelain objects; and goldsmith Christo Konrad Hunger, a hard-bitten profiteer who’d happily stoop to intimidation, threats and all manner of chicanery if he needed to. Greed for money, fame, porcelain or power seems to have motivated everyone associated with Meissen. A delightful historical narrative”.
A couple of years passed, and with the assistance of miners and metal workers, Bottger’s experiments with different clays continued. The breakthrough was not achieved until 1708 when two loads of minerals finally changed pottery into porcelain: kaolin, and alabaster as flux material. A delighted Augustus was informed and Böttger’s success came when he was made head of the first porcelain factory outside Asia.
Böttger beaker with Chinoiserie decoration c1718 (left); Horoldt beaker c1730 (right)
Meissen flowers and animals, 1730
Alas poor Bottger died in 1719 and Johann Gregorius Höroldt soon became the director at Meissen. It was Horoldt who introduced the brilliant colours that made Meissen porcelain so deservedly famous.