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A Royal Passion: Meissen and Asian Porcelain from Augustus the Strong's Japanese Palace

December 18, 2010–April 3, 2011

In 1717, Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, known as "Augustus the Strong," acquired a small palace on the right bank of the Elbe River in Dresden. He later enlarged the building and created what was essentially a "porcelain palace." What became known as the Japanese Palace housed Augustus's extensive collection of Asian ceramics—which numbered some 20,000 pieces—along with the products of the porcelain factory founded by his official decree in Meissen, near Dresden, in 1710. Within a decade, and after much experimentation, the Meissen factory became the first commercially viable European factory to produce a type of high-fired porcelain that closely resembled much-coveted Chinese and Japanese wares.

In the scheme for the interior of the palace, the rooms on the second floor were reserved for the Meissen porcelain. The most spectacular display was a large gallery exhibiting a menagerie of life-size and near-life-size birds and animals made in porcelain. Orders and delivery began in 1730 for the projected 292 figures depicting thirty-two different birds and 296 figures representing thirty-seven other animals of domestic, exotic, and fantastic origin. Creation of the figures continued until 1736, some three years after Augustus's death. While never completed, the project remains one of the outstanding artistic achievements of the eighteenth century.

A Royal Passion, which celebrates the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Meissen factory, features nineteen pieces of porcelain from the Japanese Palace collection and highlights a pair of goats from the Museum's permanent collection that was originally intended for Augustus's porcelain menagerie.

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Donna Corbin, Associate Curator of European Decorative Arts

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