Lot 17
  • 17

BÖTTGER VASES FROM THE WORKSHOP OF MARTIN SCHNELL, A pair of black-glazed Böttger stoneware bottle vases,

150,000 - 250,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • gilt-bronze, porcelain
of ovoid form with short, slender necks, thickly covered in a mirror-black glaze in imitation of oriental lacquer, and decorated in unfired 'cold' colours and gilding by Martin Schnell  with chinoiserie figures, an equestrian huntsman and pairs of storks in a pavilion garden, the reverse with a flowering branch of peonies in a lacquered vase, a lady and child in another garden scene below a moulded line at the base, the neck with a gilt-bronze collar cast with shells, acanthus and foliage, on a pierced base cast with similar ornament against a stippled ground


By repute, from the collection of the Duchesse de Richelieu,  sold on the Paris Art market.

With Kate Foster in 1979.

Catalogue Note


Monika Kopplin,  Allerlei lackierte Chinesen auf schwarzer Glasur - Lackmalerei auf Böttgersteinzeug...in Schwartz Porcelain, Museum für Lackkunst/ Schloss Favorite 2003,  p.182 no.23 and p.191, item 91a &b.


The invention of Böttger stoneware

The origins of the Meissen factory lie in the combined work  around 1708 of two men; the unsung aristocrat Ehrenfried von Tschirnhausen, who had a glass factory and cutting workshop, and had already by 1701 started experiments towards discovering the secret of porcelain, and  the rather dubious alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger who had spent some years in the fruitless search for the secret of manufacturing gold from base metals and was by now virtually a prisoner of the King. As one of his many activities, Böttger had founded a faience factory in 1708.  

The key breakthrough in the European discovery of the secret of true porcelain was von Tschirnhausen and J.F.Böttger's understanding that porcelain was not a type of glass, or indeed derived in any way from the use of glass, but a naturally vitrified result of some kind of combination of fusible clays.

Böttger's experiments with various possible clays, with the support of von Tschirnhausen, led him at first to the discovery of a form of fine red stoneware, fully the equal of the Chinese and so hard that it was capable of being turned on the wheel, or cut by the lapidary. Red stoneware and black-glazed red stoneware were first offered for sale at the Easter fair in Leipzig in 1710, alongside a few experimental pieces of white ware.

With the theory of a fusible clay combined with a fluxing material now established, the development of a true white porcelain was to follow about three years later, and made its first appearance at the 1713 fair.  In the meantime, this fine red stoneware offered many possibilities.


The Invention of the black glaze  imitating lacquer

Perfectly fired, the Böttger stoneware body is hard, and will take a high polish.  When overfired, the surface takes on a grey-black colour, examples of which have been described as Eisenporzellan. By contrast, the underfired body is rather rough-textured and porous, and it has been suggested that the black glaze was first developed partly to  cover these underfired pieces. Whether this was the origin of the mirror-black glaze, or whether the intention all along was to create an imitation of lacquer, the brilliant mirror-black glaze, composed of cobalt and manganese, is another of Böttger's achievements, and once successsful, must have suggested the potential for decoration in the Japanese lacquer style.


Martin Schnell and the development of cold-painted  decoration in the style of Japanese lacquer (schwartz laquirt)

Much has been made in art history of the rage for porcelain in the West, and the many attempts to divine its secrets at the courts of Europe. Less has been said of the parallel fascination for lacquer, the other mystery product of the East.

The exact relationship of Martin Schnell with the Böttger workshop and subsequently the Meissen factory is not entirely clear, but it surely cannot be a coincidence that his workshop was established in Dresden one day before the establishment of the Meissen porcelain factory on January 23rd 1710; of course, he was Augustus the Strong's  court lacquerer, and he was for many years afterwards kept busy with  his own workshop in Dresden, providing lacquer decoration for furniture; on the other hand he was specifically recorded in 1710 and in 1711 as one of the Meissen factory workers, and on very high wages. It is not known, therefore, whether these vases and the few comparable pieces, were decorated by Schnell at the factory, or in his own workshop in Dresden.

These vases are among the finest of this early and historically important production at the Meissen factory, and form a document of the work of Martin Schnell. In particular, the group of three Chinoiserie figures found on each of these vases is notable.  To quote Monika Kopplin, Lacquer Painting on Böttger Stoneware..., ICF&S, 2005  'This group of figures occurs so frequently [on Dresden lacquered furniture] that the motif can be safely regarded as a standard one used by the Dresden court lacquer workshop The key role it plays...is demonstrated by its appearance in a polychrome lacquer version on a magnificent pair of bottles whose provenance from an old French collection is attested by their sumptuous ormolu mounts'

The vogue of the red stoneware was to be only brief, and cold-painted pieces were to remain rare; even towards the end of the vogue, in 1719, an inventory of the factory's stocks which listed over two thousand black-glazed pieces remaining in stock found that only around thirty of these were painted in colours.  Little stoneware seems to have been produced after Böttger's death in 1719, although wares still apear in a price list of 1731. As to Schnell, his name disappears from the factory's records in 1716, and it seems likely that from that date he was fully involved in the decorations of the Japanese Palace, which Augustus had bought in 1717, and where Schnell was still working in 1727. 

For a full discussion of the work of Martin Schnell, see Monika Kapplin et al., Scwartz Porzellan, Exhibition Catalogue, Museum für Lackkunst und Schloss Favorit, 2003-2004, pp.171-193


One of the few examples of painted wares to appear at auction in recent years was the small bowl sold at Christie's, 11th December 2007, lot 1.


For the form, see Goder et al., Johann Friedrich Böttger, pl.134 (again with the rim replaced in metal); and Böttgersteinzeug, Böttgerporzellan,  Porzellansammlung  Dresden1969, no.20. Of the other examples of this form, there are two pairs in the Dresden collection, and a single vase at Gotha.