Antique Lamps - Dresden, a Lost History

Published: 05th January 2012
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The subject of "Dresden" porcelain is not only vast, but can be a complete minefield. Dresden is more of a region or style than a single maker and basically one with a lost history. It's not what's known about Dresden, but what's not known about Dresden that's central to the subject.

Geographically, Dresden is situated on the river Elbe, about 100 miles /160 km south of Berlin and is the capital city of the German State of Saxony.

When mention of porcelain and Saxony are used in the same sentence, we need to pause and recall that Saxony was the early 18th century birthplace of European porcelain. The driving force behind the push to discover the then "secret" of porcelain was Augustus, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.

Augustus was a ceramic fanatic to say the least, being a voracious collector of both Chinese and Japanese porcelain. Augustus was not only fascinated, but well informed and knowledgeable about the subject. He was among the first in Europe to recognize the sublime artistic qualities of Japan's 17th century "Kakiemon" style of ceramic decoration which was just finding its way to the princely courts of Europe.

Augustus had accumulated an extraordinary collection of early Chinese and Japanese porcelain, (much of which can be seen today in the city of Meissen - one of the great treasures of modern Germany). Not only did the Elector collect porcelain, but he also thought deeply about how and from what it was made.

To add perspective, we must remember that this was the late 17th century; China & Japan were virtually unknown to the west. It was a time when these exotic countries were considered today's equivalent of another planet.

Saxony was a wealthy state with its wealth derived from mining, holding vast reserves of copper, tin, iron and silver. Having a substantial treasury, Augustus established a laboratory / workshop in Dresden castle, with a now famous chemist, Johann Frederick Bottger, as researcher.

Bottger was a virtual prisoner, confined to Dresden castle, hard at work with trial and error experiments to discover the secret of porcelain. By 1704, Bottger was able to say that he could produce a porcelain type, (today, these first European porcelains are museum reminders of the enormous contribution made by Johann Frederick Bottger).

In 1710, with the production of porcelain now a real possibility, Augustus moved Bottger and the workshop / kiln from Dresden to Meissen, about 14 miles from Dresden.

It was as if Augustus had opened Aladdin's cave. Meissen porcelain was immediately in demand and was sold as fast as it could be produced. It was so important that the discovery was designated as a state secret with severe penalties for any one found revealing what he knew about the process.

The name "Meissen" followed by the word "porcelain" is today renowned throughout the world; however there is also general confusion about the cross over between Dresden and Meissen. These two porcelain centres in fact, have nothing to do with each other. The confusion is due to several factors.

The first being that the early experimental work was done at Dresden and then moved to Meissen, the second, that the porcelain produced at Meissen was always sent to Dresden to be sold to the four corners of Europe.

Dresden was, of course, the capital city of the Kingdom of Saxony and the residence of the Saxon Elector, therefore the seat of government. As a result, the names of Dresden and Meissen became blurred.

This blur became even blurrier when Dresden porcelain painters, or decorators with small, at-home, painting studios known as "Hausmaler" in German, were able to purchase blanks, or undecorated white porcelain from the Meissen factory. The white blanks complete with the famous Meissen "crossed swords" mark. This was a recipe for confusion!

Dresden, with its close association with Meissen, especially in the 19th century, developed into an industrial scale, porcelain manufacturing city, with 225 painting studios in existence between 1855 and 1944.

(Today, much of the porcelain produced and decorated in Dresden is recognised only by the company mark, in some cases with little to almost nothing known about the makers, the exceptions being the large makers and decorators such as Carl Thieme, Rosenthal and Helena Wolfsohn, the name of Dresden being used as a generic rather than as a specific identification).

The reason for the sudden obliteration of Dresden's ceramic history occurred on the night of February 13th, 1945, the closing year of the Second World War.

In a matter of a few hours Dresden was reduced to rubble in a saturation bombing raid with 3900 ton of bombs dropped by allied air forces. 80% of the city of was reduced to ash. Not one museum, decorating studio, or collection was left, including all the historical records and documents.

One can only imagine what Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, would have thought of his beautiful baroque capital.

We illustrate this article with a very pretty pair of Carl Thieme of Dresden, accent lamps in neo classic style.

The lamps fitted with domed covers, the urns with high arched molded handles. The lamps on a short soccle mounted on square shaped bases. The porcelain lamps standing on gold plated, custom made, bronze bases.

The domed covers and shoulders of the lamps delicately decorated with circlets of summer flowers and foliage. The urns decorated with swags of summer flowers and roseleaf meanders. The central decoration composed of a flowery, ribbon tied wreath, the ribbon as a bow with a basket of flowers suspended. The decoration repeated on the reverse side of the lamps. The lamps beautifully gilded in original condition. Circa 1910 - Overall height (including shades) 18"/46cm


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The Antique and Vintage Table Lamp Co specialize in antique lamps. Lamps are shipped ready wired for the US, the UK and Australia. You are invited to visit their web site at -: http://www.antiquelampshop.com To see this pair of Dresden accent lamps, please go to -: http://www.antiquelampshop.com/.merchant/2370/images/D062i.jpg 2011

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