The decoration of the present bowl, very close to the decoration found on lacquer furniture, was almost certainly executed by Martin Schnell, the Court lacquerer in Dresden. It reflects the impact which Japanese and Chinese lacquer had on European taste at the end of the 17th century and early 18th century - its shiny black ground, new to Europe, developed at Meissen as a response to the vogue for lacquer, and in particular, Japanese lacquer.
Of the large number of lacquer workshops which sprang up in Germany at the end of the 17th century and early 18th century, two are particularly noteworthy for their quality. One is Grard Dagly's workshop in Berlin, which was established in 1687 to supply the court of Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg (and later first King in Prussia). The other is Martin Schnell's workshop, established in Dresden in 1710 when Schnell was employed by Augustus The Strong, Elector of Saxony, as his Hofflacquirer (Court lacquerer).
Schnell's workshop was established at exactly the same time as the Meissen porcelain factory and a collaboration was formed between the two. Schnell is recorded as having been paid a salary by the factory for lacquering and decorating red stoneware. One 'Laccirer Schnell' is recorded in a list of factory workers drawn up in 1710 (probably by Böttger himself) and Schnell is recorded in 1711 as being given a lot of work. It is clear from his extremely high wages that his work was very highly regarded by Augustus, even if those wages included the cost of the gold which he needed for his work.1
When examined under high power magnification, the gilt decoration on the present black-glazed bowl (really a very very deep manganese brown) displays the same powdered iridescent qualities as does Japanese lacquer, a testament to the ability of Martin Schnell's workshop's to duplicate both visually and technically the Asian prototypes on which its reputation is based. For a smaller Böttger black-glazed stoneware bowl similarly decorated at the same workshop with Chinoiserie figures now in a prominent American collection, see A Highly Important Collection of Meissen Porcelain; Christie's, London, 11 December 2007, sale 7430, lot 1.
Black was held in high regard by the Japanese, as noted by Simon de Vries in his 17th century work about Japan. Black was used for the household wares of 'great and distinguished people', and it commanded 'the highest esteem'.2 In the 1719 inventory of the Meissen factory, black-glazed pieces decorated in cold colors were referred to as 'schwartz laquirt ' ('black lacquered'). The relationship between porcelain and lacquer was not new in Asia3, but once planted in Europe, the idea grew to produce different and innovative decorative effects at Meissen.
BLACK-GLAZED WARES AT MEISSEN
The Meissen factory administrator, Johann Melchior Steinbrück commented on the black-glazed pieces as being innovative:
'In addition, he (Böttger) had a part of the red wares coated with black glaze, producing a wholly new style of porcelain, the likes of which no one in Asia has ever seen. Further, he had some of these pieces engraved, so that one sees the red body against the black, and some were also lacquered with gold and colours'.4
Böttger's early factory produced wares for sale with an astonishing speed, but it is also extraordinary how quickly the factory adapted the use of black and other decorative elements found on Asian imports into its repertoire. Red stoneware and black-glazed red stoneware were first offered for sale at the Easter Fair (Ostermesse) at Leipzig in 1710. The Leipzig Gazette (Leipziger Zeitung) records the types of vessels offered for sale: '..one had at the same time these red vessels, which were lacquered like the most beautiful Japanese products, and gold, silver and colors were applied, and the piece was fired, so that neither hot water nor anything else could penetrate'. It also noted that 'the same pieces, with the dark glaze, are artfully engraved, to show the red body underneath'.5
In an inventory of the pieces at Meissen in August 1711, a hundred black-glazed items were listed. By 1719, in the inventory of the stoneware pieces still left in the workrooms at Meissen, there were nearly two thousand black-glazed pieces which were described as either 'schwarz glassurt' or 'schwartz glassirt' ('black-glazed'), and there was a group of about thirty pieces described as 'schwartz laquirt', indicating black-glazed pieces decorated in unfired colors.6
THE WORKSHOP OF MARTIN SCHNELL
Specific information about Martin Schnell's work appears to be scant. Monika Kopplin takes on the problem of attributions for Schnell's work by comparison between simulated lacquerwork on Böttger pieces with lacquer furniture and other wood objects applied with lacquer decoration. In her essay 'All Sorts of Lacquered Chinese on a Black Glaze - Lacquer Painting on Böttger Stoneware and the Problem of Attribution to Martin Schnell', Kopplin discusses the subject in depth. She writes that 'Scholarship concurs in viewing three slender covered vases as a safe standard by which to measure Schnell's signature style'7 - arguing that the survival of lacquered lances and the invoices for them provides a tangible example of his work.8
She compares the Oriental figures found on a lacquered cabinet-on-stand in Budapest with a Böttger 'lacquered' tankard, also in Budapest9, concluding that the decoration was executed by the same hand. She notes that 'the oval shapes of the heads, the wide arc in which the brows are drawn, the parallel lines used consistently as a convention for extremely narrow eyes and the long-fingered hands follow a specific type. It corresponds exactly with the configuration of the figures - as well as the subtlety with which the tones of the lacquer painting are gradated - on the Budapest cabinet-on-stand. This style of painting may be regarded as the standard for attributing figurative decoration to Schnell'.10
Although it is assumed that Martin Schnell and his workshop decorated all the black-glazed wares made at Meissen, it is still not known if they were decorated at Meissen or in Dresden. Certainly by 1719, when an inventory was taken at the factory, something had changed-- almost two thousand black-glazed pieces were listed which were presumably unfinished because, by comparison, there were very few (about thirty) pieces with further additional decoration noted. It seems that decoration of the black-glazed pieces had stopped. The factory's development and shift to white porcelain production from 1713 onwards could be a factor. But, as from 1716 onwards, Schnell's name no longer appears in the Meissen records, it is more probable that Schnell and his workshop's attention was required in full for the fittings of the Japanese Palace, which Augustus The Strong had bought in May 1717 and on which he was still working in 1727.11
JAPANESE AND EUROPEAN LACQUER
As with the beguiling translucency of 'true' hard-paste porcelain made in China and Japan, the appeal of lacquer was as much for the quality and sheen of its dark surface as it was for the exotic designs on it. For some time, Europeans did not know how either porcelain or lacquer was made, adding to the mystique and exotic quality, and enhancing the regard in which they were held. By the end of the 16th century, Portuguese merchants were revolutionizing the relationship between the East and the West. Japanese lacquer was being shipped directly to Europe, mainly in the form of pieces of furniture which had been derived from European types - coffers with domed lids, cupboards and chests. This process was continued and expanded by the Dutch East India Company, which established itself on the artificial fan-shaped island of Deshima (connected by a small stone bridge to the bay of Nagasaki).12
As the fashions of the 17th century evolved, coveted pieces of porcelain or lacquer were brought out of Kunstkammern and openly displayed in the interior. Small lacquer pieces were sometimes incorporated in the symmetrical arrangements of porcelain on top of cabinets, over doors and on overmantels; or the porcelain was displayed on lacquered brackets. The visual vocabulary of this fashion was formulated and propagated by the designs of Daniel Marot and his followers such as Paul Decker. It was also spread from Holland by virtue of the fact that the princes and aristocrats of Europe, or their agents, came to buy 'Indian' curiosities there.
Lacquer was produced in a number of Asian countries, but Japanese lacquer was widely regarded as the finest. It was also expensive. Lacquer chests or screens were frequently cut up in order to transform them into wall panels or other decorative devices more appropriate for the European interior. As this was a prohibitively expensive method of furnishing, a large number of lacquering workshops sprang up all over Europe producing 'japanned' furniture and other decorative elements which imitated Japanese and Chinese lacquer. Some interiors were furnished with a combination of Oriental lacquer and European imitation lacquer.
European and Indian lacquers were made from gum-lac or shell-lac (imported from India), which was derived from the gum deposited on trees by an insect, Coccus lacca. This was really a form of opaque varnish. Like Japanese lacquer, it was applied in layers, but it was not as strong or beautiful as the Japanese lacquer (maki-e).13 Japanese lacquer is made from the resin extracted from a sumach tree, or Rhus vernicifera, which grows only in Eastern Asia. As the resin is difficult to work with, it is applied in thin layers, each layer being rubbed down before the next is added.
1. As pointed out by Monika Kopplin in her essay 'All Sorts of Lacquered Chinese on a Black Glaze - Lacquer Painting on Böttger Stoneware and the Problem of Attribution to Martin Schnell' in Schwartz Porcelain, ibid., p. 84, and also see p. 90 for the source, Ernst Zimmermann, Die Erfindung und Frhzeit des Meissner Porzellans. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der deutschen Keramik (Berlin, 1908), p. 325. The 1712 factory payroll records that Schnell's monthly salary was 100 Reichstaler.
. Cf. Marion van Aken-Fehmers's essay 'Objects of the Highest Esteem: Delft Black "Porcelain" 1700-1740', Schwartz Porcelain, ibid., p. 64, and also p. 70, note 41; Simon de Vries, Curieuse aenmerckingen der bysonderste Oost en West-Indische Verwonderens-waerdige dingen; nevens die van China, Africa, en andere gewesten des werelds (Utrecht, 1682), Vol. I, p. 27 and Vol. IV, pp. 844-845.
3. In China, black wares, or wares that looked black, had developed alongside the taste for lacquer. See Linda Rosenfeld Shulsky's essay 'Famille Noire and Mirror-Black: The European Taste for Black-Ground Ceramics of the Kangxi Period (1662-1722)', Schwartz Porcelain, ibid., p. 31, where she writes: 'Some dark glazes, such as those on jian wares and tenmoku wares of the Song Dynasty (920-1271), are not really black, but are very dark brown. The black colour was achieved by adding cobalt to the brown, so that brown plus blue produced black. There were black Ding wares during the Song Dynasty, which were stoneware with a dark brown glaze that seemed to be black'...'Increasing the amount of iron oxide in the glaze produced a very dark brown glaze that appeared black. These wares were intended to be used for the tea service, since the light tea would show off particularly well against black teabowls. There were also black lacquer teabowls, and black ceramic bowls were meant to copy lacquer'.
4. Johann Melchior Steinbrck, Bericht ber die Porzellanmanufaktur Meissen von den Anfngen bis zum Jahre 1717 (transcription and commentary by Ingelore Menzhausen, Leipzig, 1982, pp. 75-76).
5. Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, 'A wholly new style of porcelain': Lacquer-Style Production at the Meissen Manufactory', Schwartz Porcelain, ibid., p.74.
6. Cassidy-Geiger, Schwartz Porcelain, ibid., p. 74, where she lists other pieces recorded in warehouses in Dresden and Leipzig.
7. These vases (inv. P. E. 951 and P. E. 953 and P. E. 2487) were delivered to the Japanese Palace in 1727.
8. The lances were used for tilting at rings during the Elector's marriage celebrations. Cf. Kopplin, ibid., p. 84, and p. 91, note 17 for the source; Matthus Daniel Pöppelmann, 1662-1736. Ein Architekt des Barocks in Dresden. (Dresden, 1987), nos. 362-364.
9. Both the cabinet and the tankard are in the Ungarisches Kunstgewerbemuseum, Budapest, see Kopplin, ibid. (German 2003 edition), p. 179, figs 16 and 18.
10. ibid. (English Edition, 2004), p. 87.
11. Jakob Heinrich, Count von Flemming built the palace in Dresden in 1715-1716 which became known as the Japanese Palace and sold it to Augustus The Strong in 1717. He, in turn, transformed it into a porcelain palace in time for his wedding celebrations in September 1719.
12. See Christiaan J. A. Jörg's essay 'Japanese Lacquerwork of the Seventeenth Century in Europe' in the Schwartz Porcelain, ibid., p. 26, where he notes that in spite of the fact that the first shipments the East India Company made from 1710 were not a success as demand was low, the Dutch imitation lacquer made by Willem Kick of Amsterdam at exactly the same time did sell well, indicating that Japanese lacquer was prohibitively expensive.