The residence palace Altenburg
The residence palace Altenburg is a treasure chamber in Thuringia and inheritance of princely culture. The silhouette of Altenburg palace is still today dominated by the a medieval castle that evolved into the residence palace of the dukes of Sachsen-Altenburg. The combination of the different architectural styles allows us to distinctively experience history and art history. According to baroque construction principles, the rooms are flooded with light and allow the perception of spacious suites of rooms which become an ideal stage to display historical furniture, partly from the palace’s property, paintings and handcrafting objects and show them to the interested visitors.
One facet of the palace’s treasure rooms is the museum's substantial porcelain collection. It forms the basis of a permanent exhibition in three rooms of the museum. Most of the displayed objects are from the collection of Bernhard August von Lindau (1779-1854). An art-historical treasure ist the so-called Sybill’s Cabinet, a baroque room creation for keeping porcelain, ceramics and glasses.
The following text is an extract from the book “Porzellan aus China und Japan”, Staatliche Kunstsammlung Kassel. Reproduced with kind permission by Mrs Anja Schaluschke.
During the preparations of an exhibition that took place in 1989 with the motto “China’s Treasures in the Museums of the German Democratic Republic“, Mr Herbert Bräutigam discovered a highly remarkable album in the library of Altenburg palace: “The Chinesische Picture Album”.
The album, painted with water colours and opaque colours on paper (gouache), consists of 23 pages of thin Chinese paper which are applied onto thicker paper. The pictures are cut to a format of about 30,5 x 37,5 cm and are glued as illustrations into a book of european bookbinding. According to its title page, this book describes “Histoire, origine et fabrication de la porcelain en Chine”. It contains “Extraits de diverses relations de Voyageurs et Missionaires, par Fois Salle, amateur”.
It was handwritten in french language and was dated to the year of 1821. The Chinese pictures are preceded by four pages of introductory text which is enhanced with additionally attached pictures of porcelain vases etc. The author describes shortly the raw materials, their mix ratio and their processing for the different wares.
Preceding each album page there is a separate page with a more or less elaborate comment. At the end there is a list of the images.
(The pages 11 and 17 were displayed in the exhibition and are also shown in both of the catalogues with the same title: Exhibition Dresden, 1989, Kat. Nr. 127, and Hildesheim, 1990, Kat. Nr. 209/10, with little differences in text.)
As the author, Francois Salle, wrote in the title, he received his information from the reports of french missionaries and other voyagers in China. Many of his descriptions are directly copied from the letters of D’Entrecolles. Some of his comments on the pictures are correct even with today’s knowledge, others give evidence that even someone with the detailed knowledge of D’Entrecolles’ reports did not know enough to correctly interpret the partly incomplete picture sequences which were in circulation in the 18th and early 19th century in Europe.
The great “ARKANUM”
The top secret of every pottery was the mixture of the clay compound.
1. Searching for petuntse in the mountains.
2. Digging and transport of petuntse.
3. Shipping of the the raw material on small boats (kaolin was shipped in the same way from the near mountains to Jingdezhen).
4. The hammers of the watermill grind the petuntse to fine powder.
5. The petuntse powder is mixed with water and vigorously stirred. The foam that forms during this process (see also image 6) is skimmed and filled into basins with a paved edge to settle. The surplus water flows off slowly to the lower basin.
6. Decanting of the petuntse-water-mix. (Originally this page might have been placed before image 5).
7. Petuntse and kaolin are mixed and stored into a cave to settle.
8. Water buffalos trample the mixture of kaolin and petuntse to a homogenous mass.
9. Two workers in the foreground work the porcelain mass of which the potter afterwards creates small pots which are placed to dry in the background.
10. The dried pots are refined. They are smoothed, and the footring is spared out.
11. While an older worker moves the potter’s wheel by the means of a strap, the younger potter gives the pot the designated shape and thickness.
12. Refining of plates, possibly by engraving a fine pattern that slightly shimmers though the glaze. The workers at the front on the left side subsequently apply the glaze.
13. Preparing the firing capsules of coarse clay.
14. The porcelain is inserted into the firing capsules and then highly stacked into the kiln. The floor of the upper muffle is the cover of the lower one; the porcelains stand on a layer of kaolin powder or on little firing stilts so that they are not damaged by the different expansion factors of porcelain and capsules.
15. During the firing process one worker opens one of the capsules with an iron hook in order to check the progress of firing.
16. After cooling down the firing capsules are retrieved from the kiln, the porcelain taken out and checked. After weighing which is a control procedure, the items are taken to the painting workshops.
17. Arrival of a tradesman in the porcelain manufactory. Perhaps he controls the completion of the on-glaze decoration he has ordered.
18. Painting of plates with on-glaze colours and / or application of gold decoration.
19. Firing of the on-glaze colours in the open muffle kiln.
20. Firing of the colours in a closed kiln. This one is fired from above and from underneath at the same time, the wood thrown in from above falls between the kilns brick walls and does not get in contact with the porcelain.
21. The porcelain is wrapped in cane stalks and then packed into wooden barrels.
22. The barrels are labeled while the manufactory principal weighs the silver paid by the businessmen standing beside him.
23. The porters rest on their way to Kanton. The porcelain was not carried the whole distance but only on the short burdensome way across the Meiling mountain pass which connected the two most important waterways of the transport roadway Jingdezhen – Kanton.
All photographs and the introduction text were kindly provided by the RESIDENZSCHLOSS ALTENBURG.
My special thanks to Mrs. Uta Künzel, editorial office and director of the museum, who provided extensive information and made it possible to write this article.
Translation: Heike van Gunst