Thursday, August 28, 2014

Meissen Museum, Schloss Weyer, Upper Austria

Meissen Museum in Schloss Weyer
     We visited this on 27th August, after a hike along the Vorchdorfer Lokalbahn (Gmunden to Vorchdorf) and locations of the first railway in the Hapsburg Empire, a horse drawn railway from Budweis to Gmunden. Not that this anything to do with the Meissen Museum, but it helps to set the ambience. That, and the rain, which came down in torrents while we walked to Schloss Weyer.
     The Meissen Museum was certainly impressive. Apparently around 1700 August The Strong, King of Poland (among other things), kept a Johann Boettger locked up when Johann pretended he could make gold. Eventually, under the supervision of another chemist, Boettger figured out how to make hard paste porcelain, which turned out to be “white gold”, ie, very expensive, and a source of much cash. The famous Meissen porcelain works were founded on this trickster’s discoveries. The technology of porcelain is fascinating. As with  any ceramic, consistency of glazing, colouring, and strength is paramount, and over the centuries Meissen has solved these puzzles and mastered the processes. They have over 10,000 recipes or formulas for glazes and colours. These used to be called trade secrets; now they are intellectual property.
     Artistically, Meissen, like all ceramics factories or traditions I’ve ever seen, is a mix of inspired skill, artistic feeling, and a kind of showing off of craft that I find amusing at best. There’s no question that the figures take enormous skill and craft to produce, not only in the sculpting, but even more so in the firing and glazing. Fire is a fickle tool. I wonder how many of the complicated pieces blew to bits in the kiln before a successful firing resulted. Certainly the technical difficulties of firing large complex figure groups guaranteed there would not be very many of them.
     The best pieces were and are the utilitarian ones. Sets of dishes decorated and made for royalty and other aristocracy were often overdone, but there is persistent strain of elegant and simple decoration that is in my opinion the main reason Meissen crockery is still sought after. Many of the pure white, undecorated designs show a purity of line and shape that raises them to the level of art. Such a versatile medium as fired clay enables the artists to imagine any shape whatsoever, without having to worry whether, for example, the grain of the material will co-operate. This freedom is both a blessing and curse. The designers at Meissen have solved the problem of excessive freedom more often than most.
    I found the museum interesting, and well worth a visit. ***

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