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Musée National de Céramique, Sèvres: Porcelaines de Saxe (4th of July to 1st of September 1952), number 64
AR monograms in underglaze blue
Height 55 cm and 46.5 cm
Sets of vases consisting of three, five or even seven pieces of different sizes and shapes formed a standard part of the representative decoration of formal Baroque rooms and are described in German inventories as Aufsätze (literally: top pieces). The Preiscourant (commodity price current) of the Meissen manufactory for 1730 records: “mantelpiece sets [...] mostly supplied to Your Majesty in sets of five and seven pieces” (quoted from A. Schommers: Meissener Porzellan des 18. Jahrhunderts in Schloss Lustheim – Die Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Munich 2004, p. 156 ff), which were to be placed above doorways or displayed on mantelpieces.
The monogram AR on the vases indicates that this set was made especially for the king or was ordered by him. Consequently, how the vases were to be used, that is whether they should be displayed in one of the sovereign’s palaces or should serve as a diplomatic gift, was entirely at his majesty’s discretion.
The forms of the vases are based on Japanese Arita porcelain and on models from the Chinese porcelain metropolis Jingdezhen. The type of the full-bellied vase with lid can be traced back to Chinese Deckelschultertöpfe (high-shouldered lidded pots), which themselves were based on bronze vessels. The tall, baluster-shaped vases are modelled on archaic bronze ritual vessels of a type known as “gu”.
The asymmetrical compositions on the vases, painted in what was known as the “old Japanese style”, indicate that the painter had made a close study of Kakiemon porcelain. Around 1730 precise copies of many examples of this porcelain in the collection of Augustus the Strong were made for Count Hoym and for the French dealer Lemaire. For example the motif of the “three friends” (an arrangement of pine, bamboo and plum tree, frequently combined with a bird, see Shono 1973, pl. 53), as well as crane, phoenix or ho-ho bird (see Shono 1973, plates 59-61), peonies, chrysanthemums or ominashi branches (autumn grass) and the characteristic fungi– are all faithful copies of Kakiemon originals.
The forms and, in particular, the décors used for these three vases can be linked to a five-piece set, now in the National Museum in Stockholm, which Augustus the Strong, shortly before his death on February 1, 1733, commissioned as a royal gift for the Swedish court (Queen Ulrike Eleonore of Sweden, illustrated in: Fragile Diplomacy) In particular the manner in which the body of these vases is consistently divided into segments as well as the decoration of the foot zones created through this subdivision – the richly painted peonies of the central parts, the scale or lattice ornament and the cartouches that are almost identical to those on the gu-shaped vases in the three-piece set – follow analogous design patterns.
Two bottle vases in the porcelain collection in the Zwinger with the Palaisnummer 225 (“painted with colourful flowers and birds” inv. 1770) are decorated with a very similar lattice pattern with point rosettes and the same bird motif. Although the bases bear only the crossed swords mark it has been reliably shown that they also came to the Royal Collection in the Japanisches Palais in July 1734 (see Julia Weber: Meissener Porzellan mit Dekoren nach ost-asiatischen Vorbildern in der Sammlung Dr. Ernst Schneider, Schloss Lustheim, München 2013, cat. Nos. 456-462).
A pair of gu-shaped vases in the Lesley and Emma Sheafer Collection, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, inv. no. 1974.356.505, painted at around the same time with similar motifs, can be precisely dated as they bear the rare FR monogram, which was used only during the short period between the death of Augustus the Strong on February 1, 1733 and the coronation of Elector Friedrich II as King Augustus III in October 1733.
A further pair of vases painted with a comparable décor using a similar range of colours, formerly in the Wrightsman Collection, bears the Asclepius mark, which was occasionally used around 1730 to imitate porcelain from Japan and China.
The style and the brilliant colours of a seven-piece set of vases today in the Dr Ernst Schneider Collection in Schloss Lustheim suggest that they, too, belong to the same context (see Julia Weber: op. cit. cat. nos. 456-462). Motifs such as the “three friends”, as well as the bird on the autumn grass and the unmistakeable mushrooms are depicted in very much the same manner. It has been reliably shown that the first vases of this kind were delivered around 1730. The entry on Palaisnummer 110 records “three pieces of a set, of different sizes, with lids and pointed knobs, painted with colourful flowers and birds”. A pair of vases with the Palaisnummer 226, probably dispatched around 1734, is described as a “set of two round vases with lids and somewhat pointed gilded knobs, painted with landscapes, flowers and birds [...]”, see exhibition catalogue Dresden 2010, Triumph der Blauen Schwerter, cat. no. 98.
Although it is not possible to attribute these pieces to any particular one of the painters known to have worked in the manufactory in the 1730s, it seems likely that the present set along with the set of vases for the Swedish court, the vases in the Stiftung Dr Ernst Schneider, Lustheim, the pair of vases with the FR monogram in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the set formerly in the Wrightsman Collection, and the pair in the Porcelain Collection, numbered PE 663 und PE 664, all belong to a group of masterpieces that were painted by the same hand around 1733/34.
It is also interesting to make a comparison with a five-piece set of vases with a yellow ground, which Hermann Jedding identifies as having been painted by Adam Friedrich v. Löwenfinck (Weltkunst, September 1, 1990, pp. 2570 ff). The form is based on the same model as the vases described above and Jedding also dates these pieces to between 1730 and 1733/34, after which time the silhouette and the proportions were varied slightly or developed further. In addition it was in 1733 that Höroldt first succeeded in producing the delicate shade of yellow used for the ground.
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