This extraordinary Baroque glass plate, one of only four known examples with this decoration, epitomises the richness and luxury enjoyed by the Saxon Court in the early 18th century. It was made in Dresden under the patronage of Augustus II, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, widely known as 'the Strong' for his great physical strength and virility, but perhaps best remembered as a connoisseur and patron of the arts. His court had a reputation throughout Europe for luxurious and extravagant entertaining, and the decoration on this plate reflects the artistic innovation and skill of the craftsman who created ever more elaborate and beautiful objects for their noble patrons; objects that were intended to convey the status and power of their owners.
Apart from the present lot, only three examples of plates with this type of decoration are known to have survived; one in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (1), another, formerly in the Adda collection, and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (2) and a third is in a private collection.
Unlike the more typical Bohemian glass 'Zwischengoldteller', where the gilded decoration is held between two layers of glass, this plate employs a far more complicated and rare technique for the decoration. The gold foil is laid on to the reverse of the plate and the flower shapes were etched, engraved and enamelled in the Nuremburg style through the foil. The same technique was used to decorated the rim. However, the rich gold and enamel decoration is reserved against an imitation marble ground that is remarkably well painted and creates a startling effect. The skill that was required to produce such an elaborate marbled decoration perhaps suggests that these were made in one of the glasshouses under the direction of Walther Ehrenfried von Tschirnhaus in the early 18th century. Tschirnhaus was not only a mathematician, physicist, physician and philosopher, but he was also the leading expert on mineralogy in Saxony, and he was closely connected with artistic developments under Augustus II. He began experimental firings of 'porcelan' (sic) in about 1704 and developed a recipe for making porcelain with the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger, and was instrumental in founding the Meissen porcelain manufactory.
(1) Museum no. C/G.1-1942, and illustrated in, Glass at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Exhibition Catalogue, Cambridge, 1978, p. 117, no. 304.
(2) Museum no. Inv.-Nr. KK_10472, and illustrated by Rudolf von Strasser and Sabine Baumgärtner, Licht und Farbe, Vienna, 2002, pp. 438-439, no. 277.