Every year sees the manufactory release a limited range of magnificent masterworks, each of which serves as a shining example of Meissen’s collective skill, talent and visionary contribution to the history of European porcelain. The 2019 series is, of course, no different.
Let us begin with Anton, the armoured rhinoceros. This striking sculpture of an Indian armoured rhinoceros by Johann Gottlieb Kirchner has been reissued in miniature form for the first time ever. Starting out as a porcelain modeller at MEISSEN, the sculptor would go on to become a master of large-scale animal sculptures. This rhinoceros was designed based on a copper engraving by Abraham de Bruyn from 1583 – a piece inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s famous “Rhinoceros”, which itself was based on a woodcut by an unknown artist. With its fine reliefs, countless sculptural details and intricate surface structure, the armoured rhinoceros is a true masterpiece of embossing work. Kirchner’s sculptural work closely mirrors the original drawing including all of its anatomical incongruities, creating a rhinoceros that appears to be wearing a suit of medieval armour. Though stylised, the depiction is in fact rooted in reality, with the thick folds of skin on Indian rhinoceroses resembling heavy armoured plates. Kirchner has translated the knobby protrusions on the rhinoceros’ legs into a scaly structure reminiscent of chain mail. On the skin, the protrusions appear as delicate reliefs. A second, small, spiral horn extends from the back of the animal’s neck – a false impression that had already made it into Dürer’s woodcut. It is a mythical creature: an animal that does not exist in nature. The 2019 Limited Masterworks reissue has been decorated with naturalistic roses whose delicate petals work in stark contrast to the sculptural depiction of the powerful, warrior-like beast.
"Hagstotz was able to successfully depict a snapshot of a moment in time that exudes not only a sense of energy, but also a wistful melancholy."
Glimpsing similarly into the manufactory’s rich history, the Limited Masterworks 2019 vase from Johann Jacob Irminger was first created in 1715 – one of the first porcelain vessels produced, inspired by European silver table services. Irminger was Dresden’s court goldsmith and indeed the manufactory’s first master modeller. The type and abundance of sculptural overlays attest to the influential role silversmithing played in porcelain design in this early period of the manufactory, before the first heat-resistant porcelain paints were developed. This vase is a masterpiece that truly tested the boundaries of what was possible with porcelain – a novel material at that time – while at the same time expertly showcasing its delicacy compared to other ceramic disciplines. Grapevines, heavily laden with luscious bunches of grapes, wind their way around the belly and the neck of the vase, while richly detailed and textured leaves encircle the base and the neck of the vase in frieze-like iteration.
Alternatively, the young sculptor Maximilian Hagstotz brings a brand-new standout sculpture into the mix with his simply spectacular sea creature. Manta rays are emissaries of an undersea world that is as fascinating as it is mysterious; at once familiar and alien, meek and mild yet threatening in their presence, as sleek and streamlined as they are prehistoric. They glide through the water, seemingly impervious to their surroundings. And it is precisely this moment that the young sculptor Maximilian Hagstotz has captured here in porcelain. Translating movement into this static medium is a central element of this figurine. As the main element of the piece, the ray floats atop the sculpture, large and calm. Underneath, the piece features a variety of marine life forms crafted out of pure white porcelain that only become apparent upon closer inspection. Tortoises, sharks, carps, giant clams, starfish, and a school of fish all wind around the base, drawing the eye up to the ray. The creature’s undulating wings capture the hydrodynamic power of the water in elegant curves, lending the figurine a naturalistic appearance. This creates an exciting interplay between the lively base of the sculpture and the smooth lines of the ray, which is only painted on its back using under-glaze paint – a novelty in the manufactory’s repertoire. The combination of the glaze and the dark blue under-glaze painting makes the ray appear almost wet and results in an organic texture reminiscent of ray skin. Because the porcelain paint sinks into the biscuit immediately after being applied each ray is unique in its colouring. With this unusual figurine, Hagstotz was able to successfully depict a snapshot of a moment in time that exudes not only a sense of energy, but also a wistful melancholy. Indeed, as is the case for many a masterpiece, it is the piece’s perfect unison of opposing ideals that makes it such a wonder to behold.