The present figure of St. Paul is from a group of porcelain figures of apostles modeled after Meissen originals of the mid-18th century. Please see the electronic catalogue entry for the present lot at www.christies.com for a detailed discussion of the reasoning and research behind the current attribution of this lot.
In the summer of 1737, at the request of dowager empress Wilhelmine Amalia of Austria, a large family reunion was held at the Habsburg palace in Neuhaus, southern Bohemia. Oldest daughter Maria Josepha, her husband, Augustus elector of Saxony (III) and king of Poland (II), and their eight children attended, bringing with them luxurious gifts of Meissen porcelain: a harlequin garniture of seven Meissen vases with Chinoiserie decoration and a pupurmalerei-decorated tea and coffee service. The dowager empress, in turn, presented her daughter and grandchildren with jewels and airguns for trapshooting.
Upon his return, Augustus III placed another order with Meissen - a second round of gifts for his mother-in-law comprising a gilt-white altar service and a fond celadon toilet service, each piece decorated in colored enamels with her Wappen or coat-of-arms on its base. For July 1740, the Taxa or work records of J.J. Kändler note the delivery to Habsburg dowager empress Wilhelmine Amalia of a set of 12 apostle figures. The figures were part of the altar service ordered over two years earlier that also comprised a figure of Cristo Morto on a cross, a pair of pricket candlesticks, a holy water basin and stand, and cruets for water and wine on a shaped oval stand.
The figures of the apostles were similar to those made by Meissen in 1735 for Annibale Albani in recognition of his help in arranging the marriage of Maria Amalia, oldest daughter of Maria Josepha and Augustus III, to the king of Naples. The two Albani figures of St. Peter and St. Paul, now in the collection of the Museo Albani in Urbino, the apostles made for the dowager empress and currently held in the Geistliche Schatzkammer, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and possibly the set known in Czestochowa, Poland at the shrine of the Black Madonna, are the only examples that can be documented through provenance as being 18th century in date and are, therefore, the benchmark against which others should be measured. All other versions bearing Wilhelmine Amalia's armorial are larger and likely later copies made at non-Meissen factories during the 18th, 19th or even 20th centuries.
The present example of St. Paul falls into the latter category and is similar in type to many held in public as well as private collections. The paste, glaze, modeling, and poor quality gilding are not correct for Meissen circa 1740, yet all of these figures bear the crossed-sword mark associated with this factory. The Seattle Art Museum owns 11 figures of apostles from at least three different sets, large scale figures similar in type to the group of apostles at 'Biltmore' which are also from different sets, to a single figure of James the Greater in the museum of art in Frankfurt, Germany; and to a single figure recently on the art market. Examples in private collections are also known.
Fascinated by the conundrum presented by her museum's 11 figures, several years ago Seattle Art Museum curator Julie Emerson began an intensive study of these porcelain apostles. If not made by Meissen, what factory was responsible for this group of larger-scale porcelain 'imposter' figures bearing spurious marks and presumably made to fool? She studied the originals in Vienna, as well as the undecorated apostle figures in storage at the Zwinger in Dresden. She confirmed that the Meissen originals are smaller than the 'imposters', and each bears impressed numbers in the corners. They are not marked with the factory symbol of blue crossed swords. Their modeling is much sharper and cleaner than the later figures. Only one set of molds is retained at the Meissen factory.
By contrast, the aforementioned figures, none of which are authentic 18th century Meissen examples, share a different set of common traits. They are larger in scale, softer in modeling and generally less well defined than the Meissen examples. In addition, the gilding on some is very thin and brassy, almost a gold wash, and the painting of Wilhelmine Amalia's armorial depicts animals as stick figures when compared to the fleshed-out images painted on the originals in Vienna.
Current thought holds that these later figures were produced at the Bohemian factory of Elbogen. Now known as the Loket manufactory in the present Czech Republic, the factory was active in the mid-19th century and would have produced their apostles between 1840-1850. According to Emanuel Poche in his book, Bohemian Porcelain, [London, no year]. pp. 50-51, ill. 92 & 93:
"the Loket factory almost without exception, copied old Meissen models from the 18th century: figures of children, of birds and, mainly, statues of Christ and the Twelve Apostles, originally modeled at some time by the Meissen sculptor Johann Joachim Kaendler"
The term 'imposters' has been used in this note to describe the group of apostle figures similar to the present example that are known in both public and private collection and that still circulate on the art market. They are clearly based on the Meissen models. Whether or not they were purposefully made to fool will never be known for sure. What is certain is that for years they have been mistakenly identified as Meissen production. Curious is the fact that Loket does not seem to have marked with crossed swords as a matter of course. Most known 'imposter' apostles bear this ubiquitous mark. The French manufactory of Edmé Samson is another possible source for the 'imposters' that needs further investigation. The mystery has not yet been solved, but the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together.
See Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, editor, Johanna Lessman, "Meissen Porcelain for the Imperial House in Vienna", Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for European Courts, ca. 1710-63, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Exhibition Catalogue, New York, 2007, pp. 111-118, footnotes pp. 135-137 for a detailed discussion of dowager empress Wilhelmine Amalia's altar service, its commission and production.