The present lot represents the majority of the famous armorial tea and chocolate service which was sent to Vittorio Amadeo II, King of Sardinia by the Elector King Augustus ‘the Strong’ in 1725. The appearance of these pieces is an exciting discovery, as they were thought to be lost. Previously, only a few surviving pieces from the service were known. The 1725 gift is exceptional and important for two reasons; it was one of the earliest and most prestigious diplomatic gifts to include Meissen porcelain (the manufactory belonging to Augustus the Strong), and these pieces are among the very few works which are known to have been painted by J.G Höroldt, the Court Painter and head of the painting workshops at Meissen, as contemporary documents record that he painted them himself.
Augustus’s gift is well documented in a range of surviving archival material. It was larger and more prestigious than most diplomatic gifts, consisting of about 300 individual items which had to be shipped in twelves crates. The surviving shipping lists (1) describe the contents of the crates, and crate 11 is described as follows:
‘Roth Ledern Futterahl mit grünen Daffet und Goldenen Spitzen ausgemacht, darinnen befindl: 6. St. Schälgen und Copgen mit dem Königl: Sardinischen Wappen und mit Japanischen Figuren und goldenen Zierrathen, nebst 1. Dergl: Spühlnapff, 1. Theepott, 1. ZuckerDose und 6 st. Choccolade Becher mit Unterschalen’ (a red leather case with a green lining and gold lace containing six saucers and teabowls with the Sardinian coat-of-arms and Japanese figures: also a bowl, a teapot, a sugar-bowl and six chocolate beakers with saucers) (2).
The armorial service was one of the principal components of the 1725 gift, which also included five 7-vase garnitures, nine boxed coffee, tea and chocolate-services, two small table-services, other wares, two chamber-pots and prize horses. Some of the Meissen porcelain (such as the present service) was made especially for the gift, but other pieces were taken from the Saxon Royal collection, including the garniture of large early white porcelain vases designed by Raymond Leplat (circa 1715), which were recorded in the Japanese Palace (Dresden) inventory of 1721-27 (the Japanese Palace inventory numbers were removed before the pieces were sent) (3).
A 1733 biography states that it was the long-standing friendship between the two kings that precipitated the 1725 gift (4). In 1688 Augustus (then Prince of Saxony) had been touring France and Italy on his Grand Tour when war broke out and he was forced to flee France. He narrowly avoided being arrested, and Vittorio Amadeo (then Duke of Savoy) offered him shelter from the King of France’s henchmen in Turin, refusing to grant his request to turn him over to the French. Maureen Cassidy-Geiger argues that an additional reason behind the gift could be that ‘1725 was the moment when Meissen had achieved the status of royal gift’ (5). Not only was Augustus’s gift unusually large, but it was also the first time that Royal Meissen porcelain had been taken out of the Royal Collection and sent abroad as a diplomatic gift, which indicated that it was a gift of very ‘special distinction’. The King of Sardinia sent a number of silk wall coverings in return, which would have been considered an equally luxurious item at the time (6).
The quality of painting on this service is superb. When he painted this service, Höroldt had been appointed Court Painter only a few months earlier (in December 1724), and it seems probable that he was keen to carry out the commission solely by himself, given how important it was to the king. He used figures on sheet 41 from his Schulz Codex sketchbook as the basis for the family group on one side of the slop-bowl, and the other chinoiserie scenes appear to have been created specifically for this service. Höroldt completed the chocolate-beakers and saucers first, and they were delivered to Dresden in March 1725. A surviving note written by the factory inspector and dated 31st March describes the service as follows: ‘In addition, a number of chocolate beakers and saucers, decorated with the coat-of-arms of the King of Sardinia by the Court Painter Höroldt, have been sent to the warehouse in Dresden; they were wonderfully done and extraordinary to look at’. A few month later, in June 1725, ‘the tea service with the Sardinian coat-of-arms’ was sent to Dresden (7). The gift left Dresden in the middle of September and was sent via Venice, arriving in Turin in November 1725.
It is not entirely clear when the dispersal of part of the service took place, although it preceded both the June 1968 Christie’s Geneva sale (8) and the Second World War (9). The other surviving pieces from the service are a beaker and saucer in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (10), a saucer in the Arnhold collection (11), an un-published beaker in the Museo Civico, Turin, a saucer in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence (12), and a sugar-box in the Ernst Schneider Collection, Munich (13). A teabowl and saucer, formerly in the Gustav von Klemperer Collection, was destroyed in the Second World War (14). This leaves three chocolate-beakers and one saucer unaccounted for, and it very possible that they have been lost. It is extraordinary that the present pieces have survived in the same family since they arrived in Turin in November 1725.
(1) Documents HStA13458, currently on loan to the Porzellansammlung, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Archives (‘Verschiedene Specificationen und Belege über Zu-und Abgänge 1700-1876’), ‘Nachrichten von den Sächssischen Porcellain so im Monath Septemb: Anno 1725 nach Turin ist geschicket worden.’ The full shipping list of what was sent is published by Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ‘Princes and Porcelain on the Grand Tour of Italy’ in Cassidy-Geiger, ed., Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for European Courts ca. 1710-63, 2007, pp. 327-331.
(2) Cassidy-Geiger, ed., ibid., 2007, p. 327 and I. Menzhausen, ‘Ein Porzellangeschenk Augusts der Starken für den König von Sardinien’, in Keramos, No. 119, 1988, p. 100f.
(3) The central vase from this garniture was sold by Sotheby’s London on 14th July 1998, lot 84. For an illustration of this and two other vases from the garniture, see Cassidy-Geiger, ibid., 2007, p. 208, fig. 10-1.
(4) This was described in the first biography of Augustus the Strong by David Fassmann, Das Glorwürdigste Leben und Thaten Friedrich Augusti, des Großen, Königs in Pohlen und Chur-Fürstens zu Sachsen…, Frankfurt and Hamburg, 1733, p. 18.
(5) Cassidy-Geiger, ibid., 2007, p. 211.
(6) These were sadly destroyed by the Prussians in the Seven Years’ War.
(7) Cited by Ulrich Pietsch, Early Meissen Porcelain, A Private Collection, Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte der Hansestadt Lübeck St. Annen-Museum and Museen der Stadt Aachen Couven Museum Exhibition Catalogue, Lübeck, 1993, p. 58, from Berling, Königlich Sächsische Porzellanmanufaktur Meissen, 1910, p. 189.
(8) ‘An Important Collection of Early Meissen Wares, The Property of the Head of a European Royal House’, sold by Christie’s Geneva on 7th June 1968. In time, it became apparent that the property had previously belonged to the Kings of Italy.
(9) On the assumption that the portion which was dispersed was sold at the same time, rather than being sold piecemeal, the sale must have taken place before 1928, when the pieces in the von Klemperer Collection were published.
(10) A beaker and saucer is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, illustrated by Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ibid., 2007, p. 210, fig. 10-4.
(11) Formerly in the Hans and Marianne Krieger Collection, illustrated by Ulrich Pietsch, ibid., 1993, pp. 58-59, no. 43, and subsequently in the Henry Arnhold Collection, illustrated by M. Cassidy-Geiger, The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain 1710-50, London, 2008, p. 326, no. 98.
(12) A saucer in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, see T.H. Clarke, ‘Böttger-Wappenporzellan’, in Keramos, no. 95, January 1982, p. 25, fig. 6.
(13) In the Ernst Schneider Collection in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (ES 1985 a,b), and illustrated by Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ibid., 2007, p. 210, fig. 10-3.
(14) Illustrated by Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Porzellansammlung Gustav von Klemperer, 1928, no. 47, pl. 4.