Another example, bearing the incised mark J.G. Müller: fecit 1785, then in the Dr. von Dallwitz Collection, Berlin, is illustrated by Lenz, Berliner Porzellan (n.d.), Vol. II, pl. 160, fig. 790.
King Friedrich II of Prussia ('Frederick the Great', 1712-1786) succeeded as king in May 1740, and the untimely death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in the same year (from eating poisonous funghi) gave him the opportunity to build on the military achievements of his father and grandfather.
Throughout his reign he consolidated and expanded Prussia's power, a process which had begun with his grandfather, Friedrich I, King in Prussia (formerly Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg). Friedrich I had risen to Royal status as a result of the consistent support he had given to the Habsburg Emperors during the War of the Spanish Succession, and also because his Duchy of Prussia was outside the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire. Friedrich was crowned King in Prussia in January 1701, but still remained only a Prince-Elector of Brandenburg. The Elector of Saxony, Augustus 'The Strong', had risen to Royal status shortly before Friedrich by becoming the King of Poland, and he had expressed his elevated status by beautifying Dresden. Dresden became the greatest baroque city in what is now northern Germany and Friedrich, also a great patron of the arts, competed with Augustus by beautifying Prussia, and in particular Berlin, as he was anxious to demonstrate Brandenburg-Prussia's status as Europe's newest Kingdom1.
Frederick the Great's father, King Friedrich Wilhelm I, was quite different. Although profoundly involved with every detail of his kingdom, he was a severe, military, miserly and despotic king who was apparently indifferent to culture. His opinion of his subjects was that 'their soul is God's but everything else is mine', and when he became king he announced to his courtiers: 'Gentlemen, our good master is dead. The new king bids you all [to] go to hell'2. He abolished court privileges, established military ranks over court offices and cut funds which had previously been used for the arts. He was appalled by his son's interest in the arts and his taste for the luxurious, and also became increasingly suspicious of him, eventually having him imprisoned. He sold off the silver from all of the twenty-four royal palaces and pavilions, and from then onwards the Royal family and their guests ate off wood and pewter plates. He even sent the Amber Room from the baroque Berliner Schloss to Peter the Great of Russia in exchange for 'fifty-five guardsmen of exceptional stature' or lange Kerls which he loved so much3.
Although Frederick the Great's style of kingship was very different from his father's, he also preferred a small and simple court. The majority of the formal court revolved around his wife, Queen Elisabeth, who received foreign envoys, generals and ministers etc... with the usual etiquette found in the courts of Europe at that time. Frederick's own rococo court was a sort of 'Enlightened free society' based on his close friendships with the intelligentsia (particularly French intellectuals). He once told one of his diplomats, Graf Solms Sonnenwalde: 'We don't have any differences of rank here and we don't recognise any either. I don't intend to introduce any. You wear my Order, therefore you have the same position as my ministers and the others who have received it'4. He wrote to Francesco Algarotti5: 'I like to maintain correspondences with superior minds, with people who are completely cerebral, as if they had no bodies; this is the human élite'.
Frederick was a multi-talented and forward-thinking monarch whose complex character could sometimes be contradictory. He was a philosopher, poet, talented musician and 'Enlightened' ruler. Voltaire described him as a '..man who gives battle as readily as he writes an opera; who takes advantage of all the hours that other kings waste following a dog chasing after a stag; he has written more books than any of his contemporary princes has sired bastards; and has won more victories than he has written books'6.
As soon as he had become king he was an enormously influential patron of the arts, always vetting every detail of the buildings or objects he commissioned and frequently providing preparatory drawings for his craftsmen to realise. His obsession with the pursuit of excellence was such that he interfered excessively with his architects, musicians and craftsmen, and many left his service, unable to tolerate his demands. He was as exacting with them as he was with his army; at operas he frequently stood behind the conductor to ensure that the musicians were adhering to the music; he required constant reports from architects with detailed information of the progress of building works, furniture and gardens, and this was maintained even when he was at war. When Frederick was annexing Silesia in 1742, he was dissatisfied with the reports from his then favourite architect, Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff7 as they lacked the specific information he required about all the mouldings which were to be used for refitting Schloss Charlottenburg.
Since his years as Crown Prince at Rheinsberg, Frederick had fostered a passion for the rococo. The Friderizianischen Rokoko or Friderician rococo style flourished in Berlin and Potsdam long after the rococo had fallen out of fashion everywhere else, as it prevailed by order of the king. Until Frederick's reign was drawing to a close, Berlin was comparatively unaffected by the fashion for the neoclassical which had swept through Europe. Although Frederick's tastes were essentially Francophile, he was also much influenced by English Palladianism. He was reluctant to move with fashions of the time, and Berlin and Potsdam became stuck in a Friderician time-warp of fluctuating taste and a confusing blend of styles principally dominated by the rococo. This imposition of the king's taste was not just confined to porcelain, furniture and buildings; as an English visitor8 to Frederick's Court at Potsdam in 1772 noted, music too, was 'truly stationary' in Prussia as a result of 'His Majesty allowing no more liberty in music than in civil matters of government'9.
Voltaire wrote to Frederick: 'you think like Trajan, you write like Pliny, and you speak French like our best writers...under your guiding hand Berlin will become the Athens of Germany, and possibly of Europe'10; but Algarotti wrote: 'One should tremble giving architectural designs to a Trajan who knows how to be his own Apollodorus'.
1. See lot 155 where a portrait of Friedrich I and Augustus 'The Strong', which originally hung in the Stadtschloss in Potsdam, is illustrated. 2. Giles MacDonogh, Frederick The Great (London, 2000), p. 17. 3. The 'amber room' was sent to Russia in 1717 and was originally installed in the small Winter Palace at St. Petersburg before finally being installed in the Tsarskoe Selo, or Pushkin as it is now known, in the 1750's (the room was looted during the second World War and is currently being restored). 4. ibid., p. 334. 5. Count Francesco Algarotti (1712-1764), a Venetian aristocrat, was one of Frederick's courtiers and was instrumental in promoting the ideals of the Enlightenment. He published Saggio sopra l'architettura in 1757 and was also in correspondance with the 'architect Earl' Lord Burlington. In 1751, he asked Burlington to send some of his architectural drawings to Frederick. 6. ibid., p. 386. 7. Knobelsdorff, the Superintendent of the Royal Buildings, was nick-named 'Apollodore' by Frederick. 8. Dr Burney. 9. ibid., p. 353. 10. ibid, p. 117.