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Thursday, 23 January 2020 08:40

Residenz Museum, Munich, Royalty and Splendour, the role of gold in Chinese Porcelain

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Introduction

Originally built as a castle in the north-east part of the city in the 14th century, the Residenz grew into one of the largest palaces in Europe and acted as the seat of power and residence of the Wittelsbach dynasty that ruled Bavaria from 1508 to 1918.

On writing about the Residenz, it would be impossible not to mention the Antiquarium. This vast barrel-vaulted Renaissance hall is the oldest room in the palace which was built by Duke Albrecht V from 1568 to 1571 to house his collection of antique sculptures. It is one of the first rooms one enters on visiting the palace and the effect of the portrait sculptures, the painted antique inspired grotesque murals and the paintings inset into the top of the vaulted ceiling is quite breathtaking (figs 1-3).

There are over 500 pieces of Chinese porcelain in the collection and the majority of it was acquired around 1700 by Elector Max Emanuel1. Collecting Chinese porcelain at that time was still quite a novelty and a highly valued commodity, which was often adorned with elaborate gilt-bronze and silver mounts, that were added in Paris.

Gilt-Bronze Mounted Pieces

The earliest mounted pieces in the collection are two blue and white bowls from the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1572-1620) of the late Ming dynasty. By comparison to Chinese imperial porcelain of the time, these examples are fairly ordinary, so it does seem a bit incongruous today to see such examples so elaborately mounted. However, this does illustrate their importance in Europe at the time and their significance as an exotic commodity that was worthy of protection with expensive mounts (figs 4 and 5). Sometimes vases or jars were cut into sections to allow for their mounts to be applied and at times the shapes of these vessels were re-interpreted in the process (figs 6-8).

The most elaborate use of gilt-bronze mounts was often reserved for candelabra and clocks sets, which were set on desks or commodes in the state rooms. These were mainly of figurative or animal subjects and some of the most sumptuous were reserved for examples of Japanese porcelain from the Arita factory that were also imported around the same time (figs 9 and10). The pair of Kakiemon karashishi almost disappear behind elaborately twisting floral branches (figs 11 and 12). The understated white wares of Dehua were often transformed with the use of mounts, to create some interesting results (figs 13-15).

Blackamoor Clock

One of the most significant mounted clocks in the collection, located in the State Bedroom, is the example that is mounted with a pair of Kangxi period (1662-1722) blackamoors (figs 16 and 17). Blackamoor figures are believed to have originated in Italy in the 17th century and became popular in Europe in various media in the 18th century2. They are extremely rare in Chinese porcelain, however one was sold from the S.E. Kennedy collection at Christie’s London in June 1916 and another, originally from the collection of John D. Rockerfeller Jnr was exhibited at the Oriental Ceramics Society exhibition, 'China Without Dragons' at Sotheby’s London in 2016 (fig 18).

The latter example stands on a porcelain lotus leaf and square base which was incorporated in its original firing. With regard the pair that are part of the clock, they appear to stand directly on the foliate bronze mounts and their original floral bases appear to be below this, which are visible from the front. The clock maker, Charles Voisin of Paris (1685-1761) made a number of movements for elaborate porcelain and gilt-bronze mounted clocks in the 18th century. The circular section that houses the movement appears to have been cut from a Kangxi famille verte bowl and sits on a miniature gilt-bronze tree that divides the two figures. This is surmounted by a small celadon lion and immortal group. The overall effect is slightly bizarre and incongruous, but represents a very specific aesthetic of the first quarter of the 18th century.

Porcelain Cabinet

Adjacent to the State Bedroom, two small rooms known as cabinets were created by the French designer Francois Cuvillies in the French Rococo style in 1731-32. One of which is known as the porcelain cabinet or cabinet of mirrors. The mirrors create the structure around which C-scrolls and foliage cascade wildly around the room, with supports for porcelain at different levels. The effect is somewhat mesmerising as one’s eye jumps from piece to piece. However, the overall effect is quite harmonious, as the mainly blue and white porcelain act in clever counterpoint to the profusely carved and highly gilded panelling (figs 19-21).

'Clobbering'

One other form of European adaption of Chinese porcelain that can be seen in the collection is that known as ‘clobbering’, where enamelling or gilding are later added to pieces in Europe. A pair of Dehua models of Guanyin, each cradling an infant and seated on a rocky outcrop on a stepped plinth, take on a totally new guise with the addition of gilding (fig 22). This is also the case with a large pair of blue and white Kangxi period plates and a set of six square-form canisters and covers. Perhaps initially considered somewhat plain, with the addition of their rich gilding, they have been transformed into something fitting royalty (figs 23-25).

Armorial 'Kraak' Dish

One final piece worth noting in the collection is the large blue and white Wanli period, ‘Kraak’ armorial dish (fig 26 and 27). The centre of this dish bears a large quartered Bavarian Ducal coat of arms, which is surrounded by radiating leaf and flower panels. Ming dynasty armorial wares are very rare and are the earliest examples made for specific European families. The majority of armorial pieces of this period were made for the Portuguese market who were the first to import Chinese porcelain to Europe via a sea borne trade.

With over 130 rooms open to the public, the Residenz is a testament to the power and influence that the Wittelsbach family wielded in Bavaria for over four centuries.

 

Notes

  1. Frederike Ulrichs, ‘Die ostasiatische Porzellansammlung der Wittelsbacher In Der Residenz Museum’, Munchen, 2005.’
  2. Regina Krahl , ‘China Without Dragons, Rare Pieces from Oriental Ceramics Society Members’, The Oriental Ceramics Society, Sotheby’s 2016, p. 72. fig. 39.

 

 

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