Kirchner's Taxa, 10.1732, XVII Bl. 322, records: 'Einen Fuchs so eine Henne frisst, Lebensgrösse' ('a fox eating a hen, of life size').
The 1733 inventory for the Japanese Palace records that there were eight models of foxes made, of which it appears four were left in the white; see Sponsel, op. cit. (Leipzig, 1900), p. 91: '..von dem Fuchs vier weisse.. ('..of the foxes four were white..'). For a fox in the Porzellansammlung in Dresden, see Albiker, op. cit. (Berlin, 1959), pl. 13; see also Wittwer, op. cit. (Amsterdam, 2000) pp. 40-41, pl.30.
This fox may be one of the pair referred to in the catalogue of the Falke sale which took place in these Rooms in 1858: Lot 1267: 'A pair of foxes'. Another model of a fox is still in the collections at Longleat.
A Meissen white model of a fox modelled by J. Kirchner and J.J. Kändler
THE ANIMALS FROM THE JAPANESE PALACE
These four extraordinary porcelain animals from the series created in the early 1730s for Augustus the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony. Augustus was one of the wealthiest monarchs in Europe; his capital at Dresden was the greatest baroque city in northern Germany and his court rivalled that of Versailles for opulence and extravagance. In about 1708, Johann Friedrich Böttger, the court alchemist, while trying to create precious stones by subjecting various clays to extremes of temperature, discovered the secret of making porcelain from the white clay of Meissen. This fortuitous discovery was put to very good use by the King, whose fabulous collection of Oriental porcelain, the greatest in Western Europe, was therefore soon mirrored by a similarly impressive collection from his very own factory.
Augustus' plans for the building of the Japanese Palace in Dresden were the most ambitious of all his projects. They were underway by 1725. The new building incorporated a smaller royal palace, which had housed a porcelain collection; the new building was to be a Porzellanschloss, entirely constructed around and devoted to the porcelain collections. Formerly Kings had had porcelain 'cabinets'; this would surpass all previous attempts. The scale of the work can be judged by the sheer quantities: some 35,798 pieces were ordered from the Meissen factory. With the Oriental porcelains exhibited on the ground floor and the Meissen porcelain on the first floor, a total of thirty-two rooms were to be devoted to porcelain. It was to be displayed in the baroque fashion in floor-to-ceiling decorative arrangements, the vessels covering every surface, supported on wall-brackets, and even, on some occasions, incorporated into the plaster mouldings in the walls and ceilings above. The building itself was also ornamented inside and out with allegorical reliefs, wall and ceiling paintings representing the porcelain-producing countries of the world bringing their wares in homage to Saxony. It was thought at the time that the Emperors of China and Japan lived in palaces made entirely of porcelain; Augustus obviously sought not just to emulate but to surpass them.
The palace was therefore intended to have symbolic significances which operated on various levels, whether political, cultural, spiritual or temporal. A vehicle for display, it had nevertheless courtly and ceremonial purposes, the first floor rooms above all providing a hierarchical enfilade essential to court ritual and through which one approached an audience with the monarch. Each room represented a different quality or state expressed by a colour, which was in turn represented by the ground-colour of the porcelain. One passed through rooms decorated in red (symbolising power), green (humility), yellow (splendour), blue (divinity), before arriving in the purple throne room (authority), where incidentally there was a porcelain throne, and a porcelain Glockenspiel. We have not mentioned the porcelain chapel with a porcelain pulpit, a porcelain organ and life-size porcelain figures of the apostles. The project was unique; no other monarch has or has had the resources to embark upon such a scheme.
1730 saw the development of the plans for the Great Gallery - the animal gallery - which was to be the first room in the enfilade entered on the first floor. It was to contain examples of both native and exotic specimens and even some mythical beasts. To put this concept in context, it is necessary to understand the view prevalent at that time that human society and the natural order of plants and animals mirrored each other. The most superior of all animals, the lion, King of Beasts, was at the pinnacle of animal society, much as the human King was at the head of his court and country. It was therefore appropriate that the world and society in all its forms should be represented at the Saxon court under the dominion of the King, and it followed that the King's palaces housed many menageries of live animals and birds.
It has also been suggested that Augustus was inspired by the Labyrinthe, part of the palace gardens constructed at Versailles for Louis XIV between 1672-5. It featured life-size lead animals many of which were incorporated into fountains and which depicted Aesop's fables. Reading the list of fables featured at Versailles, which include 'The Fox and the Crow', 'The Cock and the Turkey-Cock', 'The Parrot and the Monkey', and 'The Monkey King', one is most certainly reminded of many of the animals which appear at Dresden. Whether inspired by the Versailles animals or not, in the light of the link of those animals to Aesop's fables and with the symbolic intention of the Japanese Palace in mind, one should be aware of the qualities certain animals represented to 18th Century sensibilities.
To extend the metaphor of the animals as being a 'court' of creatures to the King-Elector, it should be noted that only animals of the 'higher' orders of the animal world were required to be produced. The inventory of 1733 lists two hundred and ninety-six animals (this includes four busts of the court jester) and two hundred and ninety-seven birds of the 'large' size, that is, over 40 cm. in height.
The task of creating the porcelain menagerie was given to the chief modeller, Gottlieb Kirchner, who, while a difficult character, was the only available craftsman who had experience in working in porcelain and who was re-employed after a dispute specifically for the task. As the process of realising bird and animal sculptures on such a monumental scale was fraught with difficulties, Johann Joachim Kändler was employed as assistant in June 1731. A sculptor, and now regarded as one of the world's greatest porcelain modellers, Kändler had never worked in porcelain before and his style and working techniques evolved with the Japanese Palace animals.
Kirchner's approach to modelling was not essentially naturalistic but rather more anthropomorphic and idealised. The eyes of the animals, for example, are often formed rather more as human eyes than animal ones, perhaps as exemplified here by lot 350, the fox. Confusingly this model is given to Kirchner by Albiker, but to Kändler by Sponsel; as the vitality of the form is so noteable, perhaps it was a collaboration between the two modellers. Kändler's initial speciality was the creation of the bird models. Some of his earlier models have a rigid, upright look, as in the case of lot 352 and 353, the two vultures. This is perhaps attributable to the problems of working in a new medium or to his early collaboration with Kirchner as well as to his early inspiration, which were engraved or printed sources. His approach was to become intensely naturalistic, as he developed his style on his own studies of the animals in the Royal menageries; for example lot 351, the turkey, exudes a vitality which can be directly attributed to working from the life.
The first stage in creating these figures was for the artists, Kirchner and Kändler (and later, to a much lesser extent, Johann Friedrich Eberlein) to produce an original model in clay. Thereafter, a team of craftsmen (formers) took over. The clay original was cut into sections and plaster of Paris casts made. From these moulds, porcelain elements were produced which were re-assembled in the form of the original and fitted onto a base, if applicable. Some models have bases and some not; many are free-standing animals and the intention was wherever possible to depict them as such. Birds, however, having legs too thin to support them when modelled in porcelain, were usually modelled with bases and with supporting rushes and reeds growing up around their bodies, being an artistic solution to a practical problem. Further modelling could be carried out on the models at this stage; fur, feathers and other features could be incised into the clay in order to add the final detailing and extra elements, such as leaves and foliage, could be added.
The models were then set aside to dry out to the 'leather-hard' stage. 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.
There were two firings; a first (biscuit) firing at 800 degrees centigrade. This was followed by the application of glaze. As the models were too large to be dipped into the glaze in the usual way glaze was poured over them, a ring of clay was applied around the base of the model in order to prevent the glaze from running down around the base and causing the model to stick to the floor of the kiln during firing. This gives the animals their characteristic unglazed, greyish base foot ring in most cases, including the present lots. This ring had to be chipped off later.
The models were then given their secondary glaze firing at around 1400 degrees. This was the problematical firing that could give rise to serious alterations in the form of the model, and the so-called firing-cracks opening up. A porcelain model shrinks by between a sixth and an eighth during firing, as the intense heat of the kiln causes the residual moisture from within the raw paste to evaporate as it transforms and fuses into the new, porcelain material. This can cause the model to alter shape, to slump or move, and due to the large size of these examples, all these potential problems were magnified many times over.
The stages of the modelling process allowed for problems to be addressed as the work progressed. As each example from the multiple series of the model was fired, it was noted how it had fared in the kiln, and adaptations at the early modelling and luting stages were made to subsequent numbers of the series if it was felt to be required: different internal structures, bases, air-vents, holes to the bases and so-on, in order to achieve the optimum fired result with the minimum of firing problems. It is therefore interesting to note that duplicate models may have different base, base holes or vent-holes to their fellows. The question of the holes to the base of the fox, lot 350, remain unsolved; perhaps these were vent holes to allow gasses to escape that were to be later filled with cement, or even decorative sprigs of grasses or flowers. Once the required number of models were made, the moulds were supposedly destroyed, to ensure that no further copies could be made, although some moulds have indeed survived.
Many experiments were made in the mixing of the porcelain paste, which had to have bulking agents added to it to provide extra support and solidity for such large models; however it was found that too firm a paste combined with hurried drying-out procedures and the final firing at extremely high temperatures produced the characteristic large firing-cracks and which are evident on the present examples. One attempt to resolve this problem of firing-cracks and give the models a smoother finish lead to some of them being coated in a thick opaque glaze containing ground porcelain shards, made as a slip poured over the model prior to firing. This resulted in the thick, creamy-coloured glaze on some of the animals which has long been recognised as another defining characteristic of the models, although this is not evident on the present lots. Eventually, a paste was arrived at that included ground-down shards of porcelain which although gritty and difficult to work, provided the strength and support required.
Experiments in the development of the paste led to the numbering of some of the models; hence the inscribed italic No. 9 on lot 352, the large vulture, which refers to the paste used rather than the numbering of the model in any sequence. Paste No. 9 is listed in the 'Arcanum' of Johann Gregorius Höroldt, the director of the factory, as being the best paste for making the large animals. The smaller vulture, lot 353, bears an indistinct X, which may be the former's mark of Andreas Shiefer, the only workman to have marked any of the animals in this way; see Wittwer, pp. 23-25.
Once fired, some of the animals had to be decorated as the King-Elector had specified that he wanted them to appear in their bright, natural colours. With the small and medium sized animals, this did not present a problem, as they could be decorated with porcelain enamels and re-fired in the kiln. The large animal models, having barely withstood their two previous firings, could not be subjected to this treatment again, as re-firing would damage their already weak structures. The solution was therefore to decorate them with 'cold enamel colours' - namely oil paints. Firstly, any large firing-cracks were filled with cement, some of which can still be seen on the present models. The animals were then decorated, some by the court lacquerer, Christian Reinow. He sealed the colours in place with a varnish which probably gave a shiny appearance to the surface matching the other conventionally-glazed porcelain models. Other pieces were decorated at the factory itself, although records do not survive to indicate by whom.
It seems that not all the animals were decorated. Kändler did not approve of the decoration, which he felt spoilt the sculptural qualities of the animals; see Menzhausen, p. 18. Certainly of the fox models, about half were decorated and half not; see Sponsel, p. 91. However, 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 at some point a decision was taken that the cold enamel had become so degraded that it should be removed.
Of the decorated examples, it should be noted that what little remains of the decoration has probably darkened with the passage of time. Of the present lots, that which remains is most obvious on the small vulture, lot 353, with remnants of red paint to represent the skin of the head, and green, brown and black paint to the plumage. Lot 350, the fox, has brown and black paint in the cavities of the ears, and there is some brown pigment to the plumage of lot 353.
Augustus died in 1733, with the Japanese Palace uncompleted. Although the work was continued by his son and heir, Augustus III, the final vision of the palace never seems to have been properly realised. Kirchner was dismissed in 1733. By about 1739 complaints from the factory that it could not give other commissions it's full attention due to the continuing work on the animals seem to have been heeded, and work had halted by 1740. Commissions for other furniture and fittings also ceased during this period. It seems as though the palace was never used in the way that it was intended. It became a source for furnishings, and a store for unwanted furniture, and eventually a hay-barn for the period of the Seven Years War, when the porcelain was relegated to the basement for safe-keeping.
After the period of the Seven Years War (1756-1763) tastes had changed and the Rococo had given way to Neoclassicism. The palace was reorganised as a true museum by the director of the Meissen factory, Camillo Marcolini, who was also in charge of the Royal Collections. The displays of porcelain were not given precedence over the other collections of antiquities and remained in the basement. However, their importance as objects of art was not lost on Marcolini. By 1833 the porcelain collections were being properly curated and in 1876 were redisplayed to advantage in the Johanneum Palace.
At various times during the 19th Century and 20th Century, duplicate models from the series of the animals from the Japanese Palace have been exchanged with other museums and sometimes sold by auction or through dealers. The five Japanese Palace animals today at Raby Castle were sold by the German dealer Falke of Bond Street at Christie's in 1858, and purchased, through agents, by the Duchess of Cleveland. The catalogue of this sale records lot 1267 as 'A pair of foxes' and the purchaser as Verneher(?). They appear to have sold for the modest price of 15 shillings; however, we have no record of their size. Intriguingly enough lot 56 is listed as 'A figure of a lion, small life size' and this is crossed-out in the catalogue, which may indicate a private purchase independent of the sale; could this be the lion which remains at Longleat today? Similarly crossed-out of the catalogue are a 'goat' (once again, described as 'small life size'); and two eagles, one of which is crossed out; the other, 29 in. (74 cm.) high, is down as sold to Bowdon.
Buyers at this sale seem to have been principally members of the antiques trade, sometimes acting on behalf of wealthy patrons. Perhaps the animals offered here were eventually purchased by a member of the Baring family. Family history suggests that one of the daughters of Alexander Baring, Lord Ashburton, may have gifted the animals to her nephew, John Alexander, 4th Marquess of Bath (1831-1896), and by descent. Certainly it seems that these wonderful animals arrived at Longleat after 1852, when they were not listed in the inventories, and prior to 1869, when they are.
J.L. Sponsel, Kabinettstücke der Meissner Porzellan-Manufaktur von Johann Joachim Kändler (Leipzig, 1900).
Carl Albiker, Die Meissner Porzellantiere im 18. Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1959).
Ingelore Menzhausen, Early Messen Porcelain in Dresden (English edition published London, 1990).
Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, 'Meissen Porcelain Ordered for the Japanese Palace', Keramos, no. 153 (1996), pp. 119-130.
Samuel Wittwer, 'A Royal Menagerie, Meissen Porcelain Animals' Rijksmuseum Exhibition catalogue, (Amsterdam, 2000).
The model 18 in. (46 cm.) high, the base 13 3/8 in. (34 cm.) wide
1869 Inventory: 'A pair of Foxes with birds'.
1896 Inventory (4th Marquess' Heirloons), p. 44 r, East Gallery, 'Pair of white porcelain foxes with birds height 20 inches'.
Supplied to Augustus the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (d. 1733).
Possibly Mr David Falke, sold in these Rooms, April 1858, lot 1267.
By repute gifted by a member of the Baring family to John Alexander, 4th Marquess of Bath (1831-1896), and by descent.