A Royal Menagerie: Porcelain Animals from Dresden
Opens May 1, 2001 at the Getty Museum
Los Angeles--Beginning on May 1, the Getty Museum presents A Royal Menagerie: Porcelain Animals from Dresden, a collection of 14 extraordinary porcelain animals created in the 18th century for Augustus the Strong (1670-1733). Rarely has such a large group of these nearly life-size sculptures, on loan from the Zwinger in Dresden, traveled outside Germany. The exhibition continues into 2002 and is the result of a partnership between the Getty Trust and the State Art Collections of Dresden, Germany.
The porcelain animals, created between 1730 and 1735 at the Saxon royal porcelain manufactory in Meissen, near Dresden, were commissioned by Friedrich August I, Elector of Saxony, known as Augustus the Strong. By turns whimsical and graceful, the dramatically expressive sculptures of birds and exotic wildlife were designed by two artists with remarkably distinct artistic personalities and working methods, Johann Gottlieb Kirchner and Johann Joachim Kaendler.
The commission for these sculptures was highly important for the young Meissen porcelain manufactory, founded in 1710. The unusual size of the figures, some exceeding four feet in height, presented great difficulties in making and firing the porcelain, and their successful execution was itself extraordinary. Now entirely white, the sculptures were originally meant to be painted in their natural colors, but doing so proved technically impossible.
"Heroic is perhaps the best word to sum up the entire effort of creating these porcelain creatures," says Gillian Wilson, longtime curator of decorative arts at the Getty Museum. "From design to manufacture, their successful completion was a tour de force, making it arguably the most significant commission of porcelain executed at that time in Europe. This loan from the Zwinger offers the rare opportunity to exhibit outside Germany a significant and representative group from this very important commission, attesting to the artistic achievement and technical virtuosity of the craftsmen at the Meissen porcelain manufactory."
Other examples of Meissen porcelain are part of the Getty's decorative arts collection and can be seen in the Great Hall of the Museum's South Pavilion. These include vases, a winepot, and a figure of a Japanese man feeding a parrot, all from the 18th century. Comprehensive information on the Getty's Meissen porcelain is available online at www.getty.edu/art/collections.
A 48-page catalogue, A Royal Menagerie: Meissen Porcelain Animals, accompanies the Getty exhibition. Featuring 30 color and 17 black-and-white illustrations, the catalogue is published by the J. Paul Getty Museum and written by Samuel Wittwer, curator of the ceramics collections at the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation and of the archives of the Royal Porcelain Manufactory, Berlin. The catalogue ($14.95, published in softcover only) is available in the Museum bookstore at the Getty Center, online at www.getty.edu/bookstore, or by calling Getty Trust Publications at 800-223-3431.
Augustus the Strong and the Influence of Louis XIV
Born in 1670, Augustus the Strong succeeded his brother on the Saxon throne in 1694 and won the crown of Poland three years later. He ruled simultaneously as Elector Friedrich August I of Saxony and King August II of Poland. As was typical for young princes of the day, he toured Europe for two years following his 17th birthday to observe the culture and traditions of other royal courts. The influence of the months he spent in Paris in 1687 at the court of Louis XIV is evident in the artistic and architectural programs introduced in Dresden during his reign. The construction of a network of small palaces and gardens in and around Dresden for use during state visits, court ceremonies, and hunting, for example, follows the French model and demonstrates the ambitions of the Saxon ruler.
Augustus created some of the most ambitious interiors for porcelain planned anywhere in Europe in the famous Japanese Palace in Dresden, a building perhaps influenced by Louis XIV's Trianon de Porcelaine. The commission of the life-size porcelain menagerie for the long gallery on the upper floor of the Japanese Palace came near the end of Augustus' life but was clearly influenced by his visit to Versailles years earlier, where the elaborate gardens included a menagerie and a maze arrayed with bronze animal figures inspired by Aesop's Fables.
Technical Challenges for Meissen
The Meissen porcelain manufactory had been operating for only 20 years when Augustus commissioned the series of birds and animals, to be rendered "in their natural sizes and colors." Because the formula for hard-paste porcelain was still new in Europe (following decades of German experimentation begun in the 1670s), production of porcelain models of this size had never before been attempted outside of China. Devising a suitable porcelain recipe and learning how to construct, glaze, and fire the various pieces created significant challenges.
The 14 different animals featured in the Getty exhibition include a graceful, long-necked heron catching a fish in its beak; a proud lion and lioness, which, as the "king" and "queen" of beasts, held a particularly special place for royalty; a gamebird known as a great bustard, which was ultimately hunted to extinction in Europe; a peacock, one of the tallest sculptures in the group; a fox with its prey; and a monkey with its young. The monkey, wearing a belt around its waist to indicate that it is tamed, reaches one hand down to its offspring and the other up to its forehead in an expression that suggests, perhaps even mockingly, that of an overwhelmed parent.
The animals were conceived in reclining or seated positions, and every model required a system of internal supports and subtly conceived external props--such as a hen in the mouth of the fox and a stump by the peacock's legs--to keep them from collapsing in the kiln during firing. Those that emerged intact exhibited firing cracks and discolorations to the glaze, making a final firing with enamel colors impossible.
The court artist Christian Reinow (1685-1749) painted some of the figures to effect their natural coloring, but the results were disastrous. Most of this overpainting has flaked away or was purposefully removed in the 1800s. Essentially beyond the capabilities of the manufactory, the commission for the large figures was abandoned about 1738, when the factory turned its attention to the production of tablewares and the smaller figure groups for which the factory remains best known today.
Contrasting Approaches of Kirchner and Kaendler
Despite his short four-year career at the Meissen porcelain manufactory, Johann Gottlieb Kirchner (born 1706) was the first sculptor to head its modeling studio. In the studio, the clay models that are preliminary to porcelain sculpture were produced. Kirchner was joined in 1731 by the sculptor Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775), who was hired to assist with the commission. With Kirchner's departure in 1733, Kaendler became Modellmeister (head of the studio).
Though both men were born in 1706 and trained at about the same time in Dresden, they embraced different attitudes and traditions, as shown by the 14 animal figures that comprise the exhibition A Royal Menagerie: Porcelain Animals from Dresden. Direct observation of live animals and birds in the royal menageries and the study of stuffed specimens in the natural history collection imbued Kaendler's figures and groups with a naturalism and spontaneity missing from the more conventional Kirchner models. Although Kirchner also traveled to observe the king's live menagerie in 1732, he remained loyal to a more monumental vision rooted in classical tradition and two-dimensional models, designing from prints and drawings.
Visitors to the Getty during the run of A Royal Menagerie: Porcelain Animals from Dresden will be able to view two paintings also on loan as part of the Dresden partnership. The paintings, from the collection of Dresden's Gemäldegalerie Neue Meister, are by the German Romantic artists Ernst Ferdinand Oehme and Carl Gustav Caru. These haunting landscapes join the Getty's own German Romantic masterpiece by Caspar David Friedrich, A Walk at Dusk, and will be on view in the West Pavilion through January 2002. Children visiting the Museum can play "Getty Art Detective," using a special card set, available free in the Family Room, to identify works of art in the permanent collection that feature images of animals (including birds, leopards, a winged ram, and a lobster). The Getty Web site also features a special section on animal depictions in art, under "Natural World" at www.getty.edu/art/collections.
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