The World of the West and Myths of the East.
West and East as Themes in Early Meissen Porcelain
The exhibition in the Blue Bedroom of the Winter Palace (Hall Nr 307) is dedicated to eastern themes from the early period of Meissen porcelain production (1710-1745). 85 exponents from the extraordinarily rich collection of Meissen porcelain belonging to the State Hermitage Museum demonstrate the West's interest in the allure of the Far East.
In each historical period, European culture has created its own unforgettable image of the East. In the 17th-18th century a serious interest developed in China thanks to the works of scholar-Jesuits, which was the basis for the myth of the Celestial Empire, and in a broader sense, the East as a cultural entity.
The opening in 1710 of a so-called 'hard' porcelain factory in Saxony, which used as its main ingredient white, refractory clay, kaolin, was treated in the West as a clue to one of the treasured secrets of the East - since porcelain was so unlike any other form of ceramic and was strongly associated with its native land, China. It seemed to Europeans to be a material symbol of the controlled harmony of the four elements (Earth, Water, Air and Fire). It was not by chance that the scholar Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651-1708) and alchemist Johann Friedrich Bottger (1682-1719) shared the distinction of discovering the formula for creating Saxony porcelain.
The first European porcelain factory was opened in Dresden on 23 January 1710. The decree for its establishment was signed by Elector Friedrick Augustus I (later becoming King Augustus II of Poland in 1697, also known as Augustus the Strong). In June 1710 the enterprise was transferred to Albrechtsburg Castle in Meissen. The early period of production is traditionally considered to be the Meissen porcelain produced from 1710-1745, the year in which Prussian forces under Fredrick II of Prussia occupied Meissen as part of the Second Silesian War.
In the first half of the 18th century the main focus of the creative quest of the porcelain masters at the Meissen factory was creating their individual impression of Eastern Culture. Of course, this impression remained beyond the grasp of their interpretations and therefore the theme was invariably present; sometimes invisibly, sometimes quite visible. The exhibition has been formed by the desire to define the boundaries of this presence.
The earliest group the items on display are the works of the Bottger stoneware. This group of ceramics comes from the first European discoveries in the sphere of ceramic technology which compare to their eastern analogies.
In the 1720s-1730s Meissen porcelain was often signed with gold or silver which came from Augsburg, a long way from Saxony. Augsburg independent painters gave life to the unusual genre of porcelain painting, receiving the name "Golden Chinese". The Golden Chinese painters of the Augsburg masters have made an appreciable contribution to the European chinoiserie style. The fashion of the 17th century developed within the context of the baroque, while the 18th century saw the influence of the rococo.
The third section of the exposition consists of bright chrome productions, painted onto the ceramics in the painting workshop, which was directed by Johann Gregorius Heroeldt (1696-1775). Many of the master painters of the workshop had their own individual style. Heroeldt himself combined artistic virtuosity with almost impressionist landscapes. Johann Ehrenfried Stadler's works (1701-1741) are barely distinguishable from the avant-garde by his treatment of forms and expressive ornamentation. The compositions of Phillip Ernest Schindler senior (1695-1765), are involved with the development of subject and surreal details. Adam Friedrich von Lowenfinck (1714-1754) was famous for the ease with which he combined European and Far Eastern landscapes. Without hesitation he placed exotic Chinese along side European traders and imagined amazing fantastic creatures. Christian Friedrich Herold (c. 1700-1779), who began working in the chinoiserie style, later took to harbour scenes. These compositions portrayed the romance of distant journeys, an integral part of the representation of the East.
The exhibition displays works that demonstrate a broad spectrum of interpretations of Chinese and Japanese ceramics by Saxon masters: from direct imitations of the overseas originals to free fantasy on an eastern theme.
A colour illustrated catalogue has been produced for the exhibition (State Hermitage Publishing House, 2007). The curator of the exhibition is Lidia Lyakhova, a senior scientific colleague of the Department of Western European Applied Art at the State Hermitage Museum.