Fountain and basin

Manufactory Meissen Manufactory German
Modeler Johann Gottlieb Kirchner German

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 533

This table fountain was intended to be used for the washing of hands, although it may have been created as much for its decorative value as for its functionality. The fountain is composed of three sections. A standing figure of Neptune carries a shell above his shoulders, and one foot rests on the head of a dolphin from whose mouth a silver spigot emerges. Beneath Neptune, there is a separate plinth decorated with two satyrs, who support a shell-like form that serves as the base for the figure above. A basin in the form of a large shell sits below, partially contained within the recessed, lower section of the plinth. The figure of Neptune is only summarily finished on the back, while the back of the plinth is entirely flat, indicating that the fountain and basin were intended to be placed against a vertical surface. The shell held by Neptune would have contained scented water that flowed through the silver spigot and was captured in the basin beneath it. The size of the shell held by Neptune meant that the quantity of water available for hand-washing was quite limited, suggesting that the fountain may have been conceived primarily as a tour de force of porcelain sculpture.

The fountain is one of the largest, most complex works produced at Meissen in the years around 1730. The factory archives reveal a certain amount of information about its genesis, though not all of the circumstances are entirely clear. The German modeler Johann Gottlieb Kirchner (b. 1706) is recorded as having produced a model for a basin in 1728, and then a second model in 1732, at which time he also modeled a figure of Neptune with a shell and a pedestal (or plinth) with satyrs.[1] The two models of basin are closely related, which makes it difficult to distinguish one from the other in the archival references. It has been suggested by Maureen Cassidy-Geiger that Kirchner was inspired by the fountains at the Zwinger Palace in Dresden,[2] where the sculptural program had already provided a source of influence on his work (see 50.211.229).

Despite the technical challenges that would have been involved in both modeling and firing this three- part fountain, it appears there may have been as many as twelve fountains created based on the number of partial or complete surviving examples.[3] Of these twelve, only seven are complete, including the Museum’s example,[4] while one or more of the three components are known in four other instances.[5] It appears that all but one of the surviving ten basins are decorated with chinoiserie scenes in the style of Johann Gregorius Höroldt (German, 1696–1775).[6] The Museum’s basin is painted with a central shaped scene that includes a group of Chinese figures gathered around a table, with an African figure appearing behind the trunk of a palm tree, and another Chinese figure in a headdress approaching the group. The palm trees and the other colorful vegetation emphasize the exotic quality of the setting, and a harbor scene is depicted in minute detail in the far distance. The scene is framed by an unusually detailed cartouche executed in gold and purple luster. At either side of the cartouche are two smaller chinoiserie scenes, and just below the interior rim of the basin are twelve small, monochromatic chinoiserie and harbor scenes. The size of the primary scene, the inclusion of the two secondary vignettes, and the addition of the twelve small scenes make this basin one of the most elaborately decorated works produced at Meissen during this time, and it reflects the ambition of the table fountain model.

The figural composition of the central scene can be traced to two designs in the Schulz Codex,[7] a compilation of drawings created to serve as a design source for the painters at Meissen.[8] Assembled from 1723 to 1724, the codex contains many sketches not only by Höroldt but also by numerous other artists, and the vast majority depict chinoiserie figures and vignettes that could be copied, often in combination with other motifs drawn from the assembled sketches, on both the functional and the decorative wares produced by the factory. The sketches in the codex provided models for the work executed by the forty- six painters working under Höroldt,[9] and the decorative and compositional style that he promoted in this fashion defined Meissen’s production in the years from about 1722 until the early 1730s.
Cassidy-Geiger has observed that several of Meissen’s most sculptural works from this period, which are fully Baroque in style, are decorated with chinoiserie painting in the manner of Höroldt.[10] The whimsical and elegant, linear quality of the chinoiseries seems curiously at odds with the expressive, sculptural aspect of the porcelain models themselves. The unexpected fusion of styles may be explained by the fact that the Meissen painting studio was working independently of the modelers at this time, and there was no coordination to ensure a unified artistic vision.[11] The group of table fountains, the Temple of Venus from around 1727 to 1728 (see 50.211.229), and several clock cases dating from around 1727 to 1730 [12] reflect this fusing of disparate styles, and this tension between the sculptural potential of the model and the painted decoration would persist as a theme at the factory for the next two decades.

(For key to shortened references see bibliography in Munger, European Porcelain in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018)

1 Rückert 1966, p. 78, no.194, color pl. iv, p. 164, no.851, pl. 202.
2 Cassidy-Geiger 2002b, p.164, n. 12.
3 Despite every effort to compile a comprehensive list, identification made on the basis of old black- and- white photographs and a certain number of ownership changes has made this task very challenging, and the reader is cautioned not to regard the list as definitive. That said, the author is very indebted to the research of Maureen Cassidy-Geiger and Clare Le Corbeiller, both of whom worked exhaustively to catalogue this group of objects.
4 Hetjens- Museum, Deutsches Keramikmuseum, Düsseldorf (Alfred Ziffer in Pietsch and Banz 2010, pp. 296–97, no. 302); Ludwig Collection, Bamberg (Agliano and Jezler- Hübner 2003, p. 34, fig. 35); formerly Abingdon Collection (Christie’s, London, sale cat., July 5, 1949, no. 228; sale held at Highcliffe Castle, Highcliffe, Dorset); Porzellansammlung, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (E. Zimmermann 1926, pl. 13); formerly Torre Collection, Zurich (Hofmann 1980, p. 268, no. 39); Mary Moody Northen, Inc., Galveston, Texas (Christie’s, London, sale cat., June 30, 1980, no. 261). The basin of this last fountain appears to be a later replacement and of a different model, and an eighteenth-century origin has been doubted; see Clare Le Corbeiller to Bradley C. Brooks, Curator, Mary Moody Northen, Inc., December 7, 1988, curatorial files, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
5 A figure of Neptune and a basin (but without a plinth) are in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (Rückert 1966, p. 78, no. 194, colorpl. iv, p. 164, no. 851, pl. 202); a figure of Neptune (bowl destroyed) and a plinth in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (Butler 1977, no. 3); a figure of Neptune (Sotheby’s, London, sale cat., May 5, 1970, no. 162); a basin in the Kocher Collection (Agliano and Jezler- Hübner 2003, p. 34, no. 10, fig. 36).
6 In a handwritten annotation to the Abingdon sale catalogue, Maureen Cassidy-Geiger observes that the decoration of the basin appears to include dwarfs, even though the sale catalogue description (see note 4 above) cites “Chinese figures” (annotated photocopy in the curatorial files, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art).
7 Exotische Welten 2010, p. 78, fol. 9, p. 106, fol. 37.
8 Pietsch 2011, pp. 22–23; Nelson 2013, p. 137.
9 Pietsch 2011, p. 23.
10 Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, note in the curatorial files, June 1987, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
11 Ibid.
12 See, for example, Reinheckel 1964; Cassidy- Geiger 2008, pp. 232–37, no. 33.

Fountain and basin, Meissen Manufactory (German, 1710–present), Hard-paste porcelain decorated in polychrome enamels, gold; silver spout, German, Meissen

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