This extraordinary Meissen model of a Great Bustard (Otis tarda) is one of only six examples delivered to Augustus the Strong in the early 1730s for his porcelain menagerie at the Japanese Palace in the Royal court of Dresden, five of which are extant. Four are now in museum collections. The present example remains the only known model of a Great Bustard in private hands.1 Augustus the Strong’s obsession for his own porcelain factory – the Meissen factory - to surpass Far Eastern porcelain production reached its zenith in the creation of these near life-size animals and birds. One of twenty-eight varieties of birds modelled for the Japanese Palace, the bustard is amongst the rarest by the Meissen modeller Johann Gottlieb Kirchner. Dresden was the greatest Baroque city in Northern German and Augustus’s lavish court rivaled that of Versailles. The birds and animals were to become the centerpiece of Augustus the Strong’s porzellanschloss at Dresden - a lavish display of the skillful virtuosity of the Meissen modellers considered today to be the most important of porcelain sculpture.
The Development of the Japanese Palace
In 1714 Field Marshall and Privy Cabinet Minister Count Jakob Heinrich von Flemming bought several plots of land to the right side of the bank of the Elbe where a small palace was built, known as the Holländisches Palais or Dutch Palace on account of its furnishings. Augustus the Strong acquired the palace in 1717 in exchange for land worth 100,000 Thalers and he became intently involved in the remodelling and furnishing of the palace. Augustus had part of the kunstkammer installed in the attic in 1717: ‘His Royal Majesty bought the palace for a large sum of money in 1717 on account of its splendor and excellent situation, and has preserved it for posterity under the name of the Japanese Palace…Having done this, he had the world-famous kunstkammer bought to this palace three years ago from Neu-Dresden for the sake of good air.’ 2
This is the earliest reference to the palace as the Japanese Palace and an indication of Augustus’s move to create a Porzellanschloss. The palace became the centre of royal festivities in 1719 when Augustus hosted a celebration of the marriage of his son, Prince Friedrich Augustus II to Maria Josepha of Austria. Guests included important European royal and nobility and Augustus the Strong wanted to be sure that they would be impressed and amazed by the magnificence of the furnishings and decoration. The palace was used to host a number of celebrations in the 1720s and it became a centerpiece to his string of castles and palaces around Dresden. Augustus had initially planned to remodel Schloss Pillnitz to house his expanding porcelain collection, in the style of a ‘Saxon Versailles’. However, plans to redevelop Pillnitz did not come to fruition. Instead, Augustus transferred his attention to the expansion and remodelling of the Dutch Palace which would be designed specifically to house the Royal porcelain collection. The palace was to include 32 rooms spread across a four-wing layout with projecting corner pavilion. The work was orchestrated by General Jean de Bodt and three Oberlandbaumeister, the chief architects of Saxony - Pöpelmann, Zacharias Longuelune, and Knevel.3 Architectural plans for the interior scheme of the Japanese Palace were rigorously overseen by Augustus the Strong himself with many of the ground plans annotated or amended in his own hand.
Augustus’s acquisition of porcelain was closely tied to the specific requirements of his planned interior layout. A hand-drawn plan of 1728 clearly indicates that he had intended to group his porcelain according to colour or type, rather than using it to furnish the palace in the traditional sense. The interior decoration of the palace was closely tied to the decoration of the porcelain, its walls to be clad in embroidered Indian satin and lacquer. Numerous alterations to the interiors schemes were made by Augustus during the planning stage but it is clear that he intended that the ground floor should be furnished with Far Eastern porcelain. Surviving plans for the upper story of the palace suggest that the porcelain was to be grouped according to colour or type (celadon, purple or green coloured porcelain for example4). The palace was intended to provide a courtly function but it also had symbolic significance at a political, cultural and spiritual level. Walking through room after room filled with jewel-like porcelain, guests would eventually arrive at the purple throne room in which there would be a porcelain throne and a porcelain Glockenspiel.
The elevations and cross-sections show pagoda-like roofs painted with indianische Blumen5, similar to the roofs of the Zwinger. The chinoiserie pagoda design was used in the two-stepped baldacchinos which are above the corner pavilions’ middle window. The decoration in relief above the Neustadt side of the portico depicts Minerva enthroned as Goddess of Trade being offered porcelain treasures from Far Eastern figures and clearly indicates the identity of the building. Other elements of the building design related to Meissen porcelain production including the inner courtyard which features herm pilasters in the form of grinning pot-bellied chinamen. These figures were probably inspired by models made by the sculptor Johann Christian Kirchner. However, a later floor plan indicates that ‘all sorts of animals with red-lacquered porcelain or brown porcelain’ were planned for the large Neustadt-side gallery.
Augustus the Strong made regular inspections of the project before his trips to Poland. Although he was never to see the finished palace as he died in Warsaw on 1 February 1733, the work remained on-going. Augustus III continued with some of his father’s plans, however the plans for the interior were given up in around 1740.
Technical innovations and developments at the Meissen manufactory meant that by 1730 Böttger’s earlier claims ‘that in the future, given the right design and production, white porcelain of this kind…shall be able to surpass Asian porcelain by far, not only in beauty and quality, but also in variety of shapes and large pieces, some even solid, such as statues, columns, service and so on’ were fast becoming a reality.6 Augustus the Strong’s obsession to surpass Far Eastern production in a display of technical virtuosity could be embodied in the production of ‘life-size’ animals. Several of Augustus’ palaces had animal enclosures and these were important in Princely lavish displays of power. The use of wild and exotic animals during pageants was intended not only to astonish the crowd but to demonstrate the Prince’s power over these magnificent creatures. It was also in keeping with the Baroque idea of bringing order to the world.
Contemporary accounts of events at Schloss Moritzburg talk of themed processions in which figures in costume were accompanied by ‘lions, tigers, bears, parrots, all manner of monkeys, and the like’.7 Like many of his royal contemporaries, Augustus the Strong collected exotic birds and animals and he was a keen and accomplished huntsman. His menagerie or Löwenhaus (lion house) was central to court life at Dresden and it included a number of savage beasts which were used for animal fights and hunting. Augustus also received several gifts of exotic animals, including a present from the King of Sweden in 1731 ‘….a lion and lioness, and also two tigers, are good-looking beasts, excepting that the lion only has one eye’.8 Augustus even tried to purchase rare specimens of animals in exchange for Meissen porcelain, both being highly prized ‘commodities’. This included polar bears and artic foxes which he acquired through the Saxon ambassador in St. Petersburg.9 If Augustus could not trade his valuable Meissen porcelain, he sought out rare beasts through the East India Company which had a flourishing trade in rare and exotic animals and birds. Huge amounts of money exchanged hands for unusual and exotic species. A letter dated 16 February 1717 records the cost of a crane at a 1000 gulden and a cockatoo for 300.
As a young man, Augustus the Strong had embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe (1687-9). The splendor of the architecture and artistic display seen on his visit to the Court of Louis XIV at Versailles left a deep impression of the power and authority that could come from lavish and creative displays of artistry. The French royal court was the first to bring together a royal collection of animals in an enclosure similar to that of a menagerie. During his visit, Augustus took note of the maze that had been built at Versailles. Designed by André LeNôtre and Charles Perrault in 1673-74 and centred around 39 fountains which were modelled on the theme of La Fontaine’s fables, each fountain was modelled in lead and coloured as an animal, with the head and mouth forming the spout. These fabulous creatures were combined with trellis, grottos, shells and hedge to create a mystical world. Animal sculpture was popular in Baroque gardens and architectural schemes, where they were often used as heraldic devices, but their representation could also convey a deeper meaning, not lost on the young Augustus.
With the arrival of the Kunstkammer, plans to fill the palace with porcelain were already underway. Once visitors had reached the upper story, they would then pass along the Neustadt-side gallery where the animal models were to be displayed. The decision to use the large Neustad-side gallery for the display of the animals was made in the summer of 1730 and the success of the project was dependent on the Modellmeister having not only the creativity but also a deep understanding of the technical challenges that such an ambitious project would bring.
The task of creating the porcelain menagerie was given to Gottlieb Kirchner, who was the first sculptor permanently employed by the factory. He had been taken on initially as a modeller at Meissen but was now responsible for the realisation of these models in porcelain. Kirchner was a difficult character but he had valuable experience of working in porcelain which was essential to the early successes of the factory. He was joined shortly after by Johann Joachim Kändler who was employed as an assistant in June 1731. As a sculptor, Kändler had never worked in porcelain before but his unique style and skills developed quickly. B oth modelers either studied their subjects from live beasts in the collection of the Mortizburg menagerie or the Dresden Löwenhaus, or sketched them from specimens in the Animaliengalerie at the Zwinger in Dresden. When Kirchner was making his only large bird model, the bustard, he may well have been influenced by the cassowary which Kändler had made a month before. In all other figures, however there are very few parallels of this kind as both sculptors had a distinct and unique style.10
When the animals and birds were finally delivered to the Japanese Palace, the rooms were still not ready and so they were simply stored rather than displayed there. Dresden inventories show that the number of animals stored at the palace slowly depleted as some were put on display elsewhere (for example in the Tower Room at the Residence), a few were damaged and others were given away as Royal gifts. It is interesting to note that a bill from the end of December 1732 titled ‘for the animals and birds hitherto delivered to the Japanese Palace’ amounted to a fifth of Augustus the Strong’s total porcelain debts.11
The vast majority of the larger animals and birds remained together until the beginning of the Seven Years’ War in 1756 when they were moved to the cellar of the palace. In the late 18th century, Count Camillo Marcolini attempted to move the figures to the Zwinger, as he felt that they would be better appreciated within the curated context of a museum. This did not materialize, however, and the figures remained in the cellar until they were eventually transferred with the remainder of the collection to the Johanneum (a former stable building). Here the animals were seen in all of their sculptural glory. The porcelain collection was installed in a porcelain gallery which was set up in the castle banqueting hall. In the early part of the 20th century, plans were reformulated to house the collection at the Zwinger where it was partially displayed in 1939. The Porzellansammlung opened to the public in 1962 in its current home in the Zwinger.
The Making of the Menagerie
The process of producing birds and animals on such a monumental scale was fraught with technical difficulties and all Japanese Palace models bear the physical signs of these challenges. The first stage in the creation of these models was for the artists Kirchner and Kändler (and later, to a much lesser extent Johann Friedrich Eberlein) to produce an original model in clay. Kirchner notes in his working report of November 1732 that he had ‘made, en plein air, the roughest of models’ of three wild cats and a porcupine.12 This model could be cut into sections and plaster casts could then be taken of each section. A large bird or animal was assembled from several moulds which were then reassembled and fitted on to a base, or left free-standing. The initial model had to be made bigger than the size intended for the end product as the porcelain could reduce in size by around a sixth following drying and firing. The porcelain paste itself was mixed according to a recipe that varied depending on the nature of the model being produced. The main problem during the first few years of production was getting a model successfully through the firing process in a stable and undamaged state with as few imperfections as possible. The process was highly experimental and changes to the paste and glaze recipe were frequently made, which often resulted in a granular texture or a grey colour.
Producing porcelain on such a large scale was a demanding task and for practical reasons the craftsmen involved often worked in a team, with the moulder working alongside a repairer who would assemble and finish the piece. Models are rarely marked although the bustard bears the ‘AS’ mark of the repairer Andreas Schiefer, whose distinctive incising and hatching can be seen on this model, the bustard in the collection of Henry Arnhold and the three cats in the Dresden collection which also bear Andreas Schiefer’s mark. When the model had been assembled and the repairer had achieved a degree of finesse by both blending the different parts of the model together and picking out details, the model was then set aside to dry out to the 'leather-hard' stage.13 As they were particularly large, this took about three months. They had to be dried out slowly, in humid conditions, as rapid drying would induce an early version of the cracking problem that is so very typical of the Japanese Place animals.
Prior to glazing the model was given a low-temperature ‘biscuit’ firing. Large figures of animals and birds were too big to be dunked in glaze but had to be ‘basted’ with areas touched-up with a brush. The final firing process posed the greatest challenge as the contraction of the paste (in opposition to the weight of the figure) often resulted in shrinkage, sagging and extensive firing cracks. Those models which were more vertically orientated (such as Kirchner’s bustard) often fared better during the firing process than those which were constructed as a horizontal structure (such as the pelican) and therefore it was possible to use a more refined paste which gave them a finer appearance. Experiments were carried out with different types of bases and supports to stablise the figures and avoid sagging. Interior ‘scaffolding’ was used to brace the inside of bases with plates and cylinders. Following the firing, during which there was a large level of wastage, severe firing cracks were filled using a sticky brown resin or in the case of very large cracks, these were filled with wood and then filled.
The six bustards which are recorded in the 1731-34 delivery to the Japanese Palace were all decorated with cold colours, as the risks involved with an enamel firing would have been too great for models of these size.14 Interestingly not all of the animals were decorated and Kändler did not approve of the decoration, which he felt spoilt the sculptural qualities of the animals. At some later point, most of the coloured animals were deliberately stripped of their decoration, as photographs of the displays of animals in the Zwinger Palace taken in the late 19th Century show them in the white. It is therefore likely that a decision was taken that the cold enamel had become so degraded that it should be removed.
1. Four models of bustards were ordered for the Japanese Palace in November 1732, although five examples were subsequently delivered between 1731-34. All of them are recorded as decorated with cold colours that were later removed. Oddly, six models of bustards are recorded in the Royal collection of Saxony in the Inventarium of 1770 and again in 1779. However, Samuel Wittwer records only five as extant in 2006: two white examples of bustards in the Dresden Porcelain Collection, an example in the Frick Collection from the collection of Henry Arnhold, another in the Museo Civico, Turin and a fifth in ‘a private Italian collection’, which is most likely the present example. See Samuel Wittwer, The Gallery of Meissen Animals, Munich, 2006, pp. 330-331.
2. Samuel Wittwer, Ibid., 2006, Munich, p. 32.
3. Samuel Wittwer, Ibid., 2006, Munich, p. 34.
4. Samuel Wittwer illustrates the assorted floorplans, see ibid., 2006, Munich, p. 33, figs. 31-33. The symbolic significance of the coloured displays of porcelain in each room would not have been lost on visitors to the Palace. Each room represented a different quality or state which was expressed through colour, for example red conveyed power, green symbolised humility, yellow conveyed splendour, blue gave a sense of divinity, before arriving into the throne room which was decorated in purple which conveyed authority. 5. Samuel Wittwer, Ibid., 2006, Munich, p. 35
6. Samuel Wittwer, ibid., Munich, 2006, p. 59, quoted from Zimmermann 1908, 322.
7. Samuel Wittwer, ibid., Munich, 2006, p. 60 where the author cites Johann Michael von Leon’s 1740 account of a parade which took place on 14th October 1718.
8. Samuel Wittwer, ibid., Munich, 2006, p. 63 where the author cites the lion keeper.
9. Samuel Wittwer, ibid., Munich, 2006, p. 64.
10. Samuel Wittwer, ibid., Munich, 2006, p. 116.
11. Samuel Wittwer, Ibid., Munich, 2006, p. 51.
12. Cited by Samuel Wittwer, ibid., 2006, pp. 77 & 250.
13. Models such as the bustard, were required to become gradually thinner towards the top so that they did not collapse under their own weight during the firing.
14. The court painter and lacquer Christian Reinow appears to have been employed to decorate white models with a sealed lacquer finish following the application of oil paints.