Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pottery World Tour: Dresden

Had an extended assignment in Germany back in February, one that gave me the chance to take a weekend jaunt to Dresden and see more clays o' the world. The main pottery exhibit resides in the Zwinger palace, a baroque style palace. A whole wing of the palace is dedicated to the Porzellansammlung (porcelain collection).

"Have you seen the KangXi 1703 Catalog? it is sooo good! I must have it

The majority of the pieces are from the collection of Augustus the Strong, who was just a complete fanboy for fine porcelains. Though it is under his sponsorship that Meissen got its start, he still massed shiploads of authentic Japanese and Chinese porcelain, some were already antiques of their time. Mixed in with rare pieces are also volume collections that look like Augustus threw some ship captain a sack o' gold and told him to bring back whatever can be found. As repetitive this makes the collection, it also ensures a very complete set that shows many styles and motifs. For a posterity point of view this showcases every variation on form, subject, glaze style there is to be captured. I do believe this is one of the most impressive fine china collection outside of the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.(

And that brings us to the first mini feature:

The Minion's Travelin' Tip:

If you want to see the fine paintings and artifacts of China's imperial past, don't have the starry-eyed impression you will find in Beijing. Most the imperial treasure were evacuated to Taiwan when China fell, so they are on rotating exhibit at the National Palace Museum. If you go to the Forbidden City you will find what looks like a house under repossession - all the furniture and fixings are gone.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

About half way through the exhibit, there is a switch to the Meissen produced pieces. When the Meissen-ware first start, they are simply replicas of Oriental pieces. As time goes on the Meissen productions find their own stride. The functional pieces take on the European baroque style of decoration, but truly exceptional are figurines that assimilates the experience of the Renaissance, which brings about detailed studies of perspectives and anatomy. Thus, the Meissen style creates detailed and fluid figurines, as compared to the rote-learned, ceremonial figurines of the East. Not to be underestimated are the actual vessels, with the foundation they laid down. With increasing consumption of coffee, tea, and chocolate, Dresden had a hand in shaping what we consider as definitive shape of pots for these fine beverages.

Normally, I would only take a modest amount of pictures to get the point across and document the things I see. But since I had to pay extra for a photo pass, I was determined to make it all worth my while.

Go see the pictures:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pottery World Tour: Meissen

Meissen is a town in Germany close to city of Dresden. I had always knew Dresden as famous for its fine porcelains, thought I was not as familiar with the actual source, which is Meissen. Historically it is most famous for being the first in finely crafted porcelain ware. They started the quest to produce such fine piece in order to free themselves from the dependence on foreign, imported pottery (hmm, sounds kind of familiar...) Under the stewardship of Augustus the Strong, and two craftsman-scientists Boettger and Hoeroldt, the workshops of Meissen are the first to achieve success at matching the quality of Far East white porcelain. Unlike the Asian pottery, the Meissen pottery pioneers the European style that emphasize a hard profile with edges and finishes that echo Gothic cathedrals and wood carvings, and even banners and fabrics are modeled with exaggerated crispness. Some pieces don't stand the test of time too well, as their decoration-festooned look appears gaudy to the modern eye the same way portraits of Napoleon with a couple of pounds of medals hanging off his chest would. Some pieces do strike that sublime balance of decorative and poise that makes it a treasure marking timeless imagination and skill at work.

Here is St. Peter holding the keys of the kingdom, standing contrapposto. On first look it is pretty simple, but the detailed added to the robe, the beard, keys, and most importantly the lifelike hands are distinct. Not only that, the details all enhance the fact they are depicting different textures/hardness. Hats off to the worksmanship required to figure out of how to model this in malleable clay and have the firing emphasize all these characteristics properly.

A guided tour through the "Meissen Method" shows the amount of hand labor required to make any piece. They may have created their own supply of fine china, but it is NOT cheap. No matter what you buy, it is so easy to imagine there is a factory going chuga-chuga-chuga spitting out exact copies, quite refreshing to see it all done by hand.

That being said, I did not buy anything there. But the next time I want to shell out 120+ Euros for a sugar bowl and a creamer, I know where to look.

Go see for yourself:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

In the beginning...

Right, let's let set the first step on a journey, get the show on the road, throw the first pitch, kick off this game... and other some such cliches necessary at the start of an endeavor. I can tell you right now the posts are mainly going to come in two flavors, one that shows my travels, and what museums, landmarks, and cultural hot spots I visited. The other variety will be reviews of what I managed to cram down my gullet, and they won't always be the most classy cuisine either. In other words you will find a collision of high- and low-brow musings here, like a purebred dog standing on a electrified Boston manhole cover, like a discharging shotgun on a vice-presidential hunt, like...

oh yeah, like that.

So with the first post down, many more to go, I 'get the ball rolling'.