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The 'Damaskus' Service
It is not known exactly why this service, which is an interpretation of a pattern of Chinese porcelain, is called the 'Damaskus' service. The original Chinese design was based on the overlapping pink petals of the bud of the lotus flower, which is of sacred Buddhist significance. Most porcelain of this pattern was produced in China in the mid 18th Century, much of it exported to Europe, although the wares which survive at Topkapi in Istanbul also testify to the popularity of the pattern in the Middle East (see Regina Krahl, John Ayers and Nurdan Erbahar, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, Vol III, Qing Dynasty Porcelains, London, 1996, p. 943, no. 3431). It has been suggested that Emperor Wilhelm II was given a Chinese plate of this pattern as a gift while travelling in the Middle East (he visited Damascus in 1898) and it is to this gift that the present service owes its name.
The design of the Chinese originals often incorporates circular cartouches filled with stylised patterns or scrolls in contrast to the overall overlapping petal pattern of the ground. In the case of the 'Damaskus' service, the decision was made to decorate these cartouches with botanical studies in the same pink and gold ground-colours. Great efforts were made to achieve botanical accuracy in the decoration, and over 900 designs of specimen plants were produced between 1903 and 1905. The designs, which include Asian plants, European plants and some unidentifiable and perhaps fantastical plants, still survive in the KPM archive at Schloss Charlottenburg.
Records in the Geheim Staatsarchiv reveal the first documented large delivery of 530 flat plates was made on 26th January 1904 and cost 9,540 Marks. In 1919 the service was moved, along with two other services, from the Neue Palais in Potsdam to Huis Doorn, and after the death of the Emperor in 1941 it was moved again to the Burg Hohenzollern. The majority of the service remained in the castle until earlier this year.
For a discussion of this service see Roland Peters, 'Porcelain by KPM in the Eastern Oriental style', Keramos, October, 1995, Vol. 150, p.104.
Teile eines Services, Berlin K.P.M. 'Damaskus'