Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Source: Dresden and Meissen

Dresden was my biggest surprise so far – and a most pleasant one. I expected it to be like Düsseldorf, mostly buildings from the 50’s and 60’s since the city was also bombed out during WWII. However, Dresden made a commitment to rebuild many of its historical buildings with exact attention to detail and it is truly spectacular. My destination was the Japanese Palais for the main 300th Anniversary of Meissen exhibition. It was an amazing show, with examples of Meissen from museums all over the world – the best of their production. It was organized in a didactic and thematic way. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed but there is a book on the show, which I will buy when I return since it would use up my weight allowance for luggage it is so comprehensive! It was also amazing to see this show at the Japanese Palais, as it is where August the Strong had his collection on display – one floor for the actual Asian imports and one for Meissen’s exacting “copies.”

The next day I boarded the train to the town of Meissen where the factory, museum and visitors center is located. Try as I might, I could not get a tour of the factory. They have a slick demo program in the “Workshop” for visitors. They did allow me to take pictures and videos. They had people throwing, using molds, underglazing, and china painting. Then there was the museum to visit. It too was beautifully displayed with one section by country theme. I topped off the morning with coffee and pie in their café that serves on Meissen ware. That was about as close as I could afford to get to the dishes as even in the “outlet” store has the cups priced at a few hundred dollars each.

Since I had an early start I managed to get back in time to see more of Dresden and while looking over the map I noted there was porcelain at the Zwinger – a Baroque complex of buildings with a huge courtyard inside with gardens, fountains, etc. Well, was I surprised to find that this was THE collection of August the Strong. During the war the German’s wisely took the work out of the Japanese Palais and stored it for safekeeping. The Russians “appropriated” it when they occupied Dresden but returned the collection in the late 50’s. Then in the early 60’s the collection was moved to the Zwinger for display. In 2006 the space was remodeled and designed to show how the work might have been displayed by August the Strong, typically in arches on the wall, pots on fancy shelves and in a symmetrical pattern. The Asian import ware was beyond belief in quality and variety. There was a special display on Bottger, enslaved by August and forced to discover the Arcanum. Eventually he succeeded in discovering the formula for a porcelain comparable to the Chinese porcelain. It was after that the Meissen Manufactur was started by August 300 years ago.

Great story, great collection, great city.

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