Christiaan JORG
The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden 德國德累斯頓國家藝術收藏館

The Dresden Porcelain Project: Cataloguing a Royal Collection of Asian Export Porcelain

Together with silk and tea, porcelain was one of the commodities from China that traveled the world. Like tea and silk, it was exotic, exclusive and much sought after in Asia and, since the 16th century, in the West. For Europeans, the decoration on porcelain often was their very first impression of a non-Western culture, making them wonder about the world and its marvels.

Tea and silk decay quickly, but porcelain has an almost eternal life, even if broken and therefore often is considered a good example of early globalism in material culture. In the West, it was influential as a new element in Western interior design, it was at the core of changing eating and drinking habits in Europe around 1700 and it strongly influenced the chinoiserie fashion in the 18th century.

Porcelain was widely in use in Europe and archaeological excavations made clear that at least in the Netherlands it was represented among all layers of 18th c. society. It also was the subject of collecting among the European upper classes, initially for cabinets of curiosities, later for porcelain rooms where an abundance of objects with a great variety of shapes, colors and decorations was presented, thus enhancing the taste and status of their owner.

A wonderful, well-documented early 18th c. porcelain collection is that of Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (1670-1733). It was a large collection: when he died he owned about 25,000 pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. Only one-third survived and is preserved in the Zwinger in Dresden, Germany. It still is a collection of great importance because the objects can be matched with their descriptions in the contemporary inventories that have been preserved. These inventories also give information where Augustus acquired his porcelain, the prices he paid, and how he used it. This correlation is possible because the number that each piece was given on arrival was engraved or painted on the base. We therefore have a corpus of porcelain that is undisputedly genuine and reflects the taste, the appreciation and the variety of porcelain at the time.

However, the collection also is important because it stood at the basis of the invention and development of the first true Western porcelain in Meissen, near Dresden, in which Augustus had heavily invested. In his 'Japanese Palace' in Dresden he intended to combine the Asian and the Meissen porcelains, but his plans were never realized.

At present, a cataloguing project is on its way to produce a modern, digital catalogue in English of each and every piece of the remaining Asian porcelain collection of Augustus the Strong. Thanks to the Bei Shan Tang Foundation and others, all objects have been photographed and all relevant inventory entries transcribed and translated. An international team of 30 specialists is now writing new entries and Christiaan J?rg, academic supervisor of the project, will present the latest discoveries of his colleagues at the symposium.