This charger belonged to the Meissen Swan Service, one of the largest and most magnificent porcelain dinner services ever created. Produced at the Dresden manufactory between the years of 1737 and 1743, the service comprised of over 2,000 unique pieces; its splendor is illustrative of both the artistic genius of the factory’s master modeler, Johann Joachim Kändler, as well as the ambitions of its director, Heinrich Count von Brühl, for whom the service was commissioned.

The plate displays the coat-of-arms of Heinrich Count von Brühl on the occasion of his wedding in 1731. At this time, the fashion for ornately painted heraldic porcelain was in decline, as sculptural relief modeling grew in popularity. The Brühl arms are relatively small and marginalized; the plate’s primary decoration is the beautifully modeled central motif of two swans floating serenely on rippling water amidst rushes and reeds. They are accompanied by a pair of heron, one of which is in flight.  The sky spirals out across the cavetto, presenting a shimmering sunburst.  The entire service is a tour de force in porcelain modeling, from the low relief decoration of its plates, to the full sculptural glory of its centerpieces. J.J. Kändler was skillful in exploiting the sculptural potential of porcelain; he is considered one of the greatest modelers in ceramic history.

The aquatic theme of the Swan Service is a play on the name Brühl, which means a ‘marshy ground’; depicted is a delightful selection of marine flora and fauna: snail, shells, oyster, dolphins, and coral; as well as mythological figures associated with water: Neptune, sirens, mermaids and more. In preparation for his work, Kändler spent several days making careful drawings of shells in the natural history collections of the Royal Palace.  The era’s growing interest in naturalism and organic forms, a trend that would  come to characterize the Rococo, is seen emerging in the service.

The sheer extravagance and unprecedented scale of the Swan Service is a symptomatic of von Brühl’s love of ostentation. As director of the factory, it was his privilege to commission whatever porcelain he wished, free of charge. With the Meissen Swan Service on his table, Count von Brühl must have hosted incredible feasts; the extravagance of his table service would have been matched by extraordinary delicacies. It is possible that with the Swan Service, the splendour of von Brühl’s table might have exceeded the King’s.

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[…] This article first appeared on the Cooper Hewitt’s Object of the Day blog on April 20, 2013. […]

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