Porcelain fever

Now on view
Porcelain fever

Porcelain fever

The white gold of Augustus the Strong and Madame de Pompadour

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The Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics in Leeuwarden presents the exhibition Porcelain Fever: the white gold of Augustus the Strong and Madame de Pompadour from 2 March to 1 September 2024. Portraying the genesis of European porcelain – a fiercely competitive struggle beset with intrigue, espionage and drama – the exhibition features masterpieces from the world-famous porcelain collections of Dresden and Sèvres, which are travelling to the Netherlands for the first (and perhaps last) time especially for this occasion.

Mythisch draakachtig figuur, Porzellanmanufaktur Meissen: model toegeschreven aan Johann Gottlieb Kirchner, 1730, SKD Porzellansammlung Dresden, Foto: Adrian Sauer
Mythisch draakachtig figuur, Porzellanmanufaktur Meissen: model toegeschreven aan Johann Gottlieb Kirchner, 1730, SKD Porzellansammlung Dresden, Foto: Adrian Sauer
Vaas met geperforeerde wand, Porzellanmanufaktur Meissen: Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1777), c. 1740-50, SKD Porzellansammlung Dresden, Foto: Adrian Sauer
Vaas met geperforeerde wand, Porzellanmanufaktur Meissen: Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1777), c. 1740-50, SKD Porzellansammlung Dresden, Foto: Adrian Sauer

Porcelain animals more than a metre high, a profusion of gold, soft pastel colours, exuberant paintings and openworked objects: in the course of the eighteenth century, nothing was too outlandish and Europe succumbed to a highly contagious porcelain fever. Two royal houses unleashed a craze that very quickly propelled European porcelain art to great heights and even today has left its mark. It is the thrilling story of the birth of European porcelain, told by two iconic figures of this turbulent time: Augustus the Strong (1670-1733), Elector of Saxony, King of Poland and founder of the Meissen porcelain factory in Germany; and Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), mistress, cultural adviser and confidante of King Louis XV and patron of the Sèvres porcelain factory in France.

Augustus de Sterke, Nicolas de Largillierre, ca. 1714-1715, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Purchase William Rockhill Nelson Trust
Augustus de Sterke, Nicolas de Largillierre, ca. 1714-1715, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Purchase William Rockhill Nelson Trust
Madame de Pompadour, François Boucher, 1756, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Alte Pinakothek München
Madame de Pompadour, François Boucher, 1756, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Alte Pinakothek München

Modern spy thriller

The intrigues surrounding the origin of European porcelain would not be out of place in a modern spy thriller. The famous alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) boasted that he knew how to transmute base metals into gold. Augustus the Strong wanted this secret for himself, and on his orders Böttger was locked up in the palace. He didn’t manage to make gold, but after years of experimenting together with fellow scientists and craftsmen, Böttger succeeded in producing ‘white gold’. They were the first Europeans to identify the correct ingredients to make porcelain.

Highly sought-after in Europe, the formula was jealously guarded, so the first porcelain production facilities were not located in a factory, but in a place where no one could enter or leave unseen: the ‘porcelain castle’ Albrechtsberg near Meissen. It is depicted on a cup and saucer recently purchased by the Princessehof and on display in the exhibition. Incidentally, despite strict surveillance, employees at the castle managed to escape with valuable knowledge, with the result that, before long, other porcelain factories were established across Europe.

Kop en schotel met Slot Albrechtsberg, collectie Keramiekmuseum Princessehof
Kop en schotel met Slot Albrechtsberg, collectie Keramiekmuseum Princessehof

Collaboration

For the exhibition, the Princessehof was able to draw on the abundant ceramic collections of the Porzellansammlung in Dresden, Musée national de Céramique in Sèvres and other important porcelain collections, such as those of the Louvre and Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. This exhibition can only be realised thanks to their generous cooperation: more than 150 objects of unparalleled quality from these museums are showcased. This is exceptional because they are all objects that do not travel often. Rarely has the story of the genesis of European porcelain been so comprehensively presented in one exhibition.

Design

The Porcelain Fever exhibition takes visitors through six regally designed rooms, where they will encounter the earliest experiment from Italy, Augustus’ frenzied amassing of Asian porcelain and Meissen’s first experiments, as well as a life-size zoo. Visitors not only come face to face with Augustus the Strong and Madame de Pompadour, but also other European monarchs and the porcelain that connected them. The exhibition ends in the splendour of the French court, resplendent with flowers, ornate frames, soft colours and painstaking details. The spatial design of the exhibition is by Tatyana van Walsum; the graphic design by Marline Bakker-Glamcult Studio.

Publication

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated, 224-page publication that dives deeper into the remarkable genesis of European porcelain, based on a number of key figures. Rarely has an art history book been populated by such colourful characters, so much intrigue and so many lavish and exuberant objects. In addition to the curators of the exhibition, Denise Campbell and Laura Smeets, the publication includes contributions by experts from Germany, France and England.

The bilingual (Dutch and English) catalogue Porseleinkoorts. Het wonderbaarlijke ontstaan van Europees Porselein / Porcelain Fever. The wondrous origins of European Porcelain is published by Waanders Uitgeverij Zwolle, and costs €29.95.

The exhibition Porcelain Fever is made possible in part by the Mondriaan Fund, Turing Foundation, Blockbuster Fund XTRA, Prince Bernhard Culture Fund, Angela E. Fund and the Blauwe Baan Fund, Van Achterbergh-Domhof Foundation, Leeuwarder Ondernemers Fonds, Stichting Cultuur FB Oranjewoud, St. Anthony Gasthuis Fund, Boelstra-Olivier Foundation, Herbert Duintjer Fund Foundation.

Partners of the Princessehof: Ottema-Kingma Foundation, Society of Friends of the Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics and Club Céramique.

The Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics is co-funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Municipality of Leeuwarden.

 

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