Lion and Lioness, ca. 1732
Model attributed to Johann Gottlieb Kirchner (German, b. 1706)
Hard–paste porcelain; lion: H. 21 3/16 in. (53.8 cm), L. 32 7/8 in. (83.5 cm); lioness: H. 18 1/6 in. (46.1 cm), L. 30 in. (76.2 cm)
Purchase, Wrightsman Fund, 1988 (1988.294.1,.2)
One of the most ambitious undertakings by the Meissen factory was the production of hundreds of large-scale animals and birds in the early 1730s. The figures were intended to be housed in the Japanese Palace, a building remodeled by Augustus the Strong to house his vast collection of both Asian and Meissen porcelain. A large upper-floor gallery of the Japanese Palace was to contain 296 mammals and 297 birds made of porcelain, but a much smaller number was actually completed due to a variety of problems.
The technical challenges posed by these animals were enormous because of their size. No porcelain sculpture of this scale had ever been attempted, and the difficulties of firing and decorating large-scale animals proved to be significant. A modified porcelain paste was developed, but even this more resilient ceramic body often cracked during the firing process. Augustus wanted the animals to be decorated in naturalistic colors, but it was deemed too risky to subject the figures to a second firing (for the enamel colors), so most of the animals were colored with oil paint. The cold colors (so named because they were not fired) proved not to be durable, and the vast majority of surviving animals are now white.
Even in their white state, and often exhibiting numerous technical flaws, these large Meissen animals are among the great achievements of European porcelain production of the eighteenth century, and can be rightly regarded as great works of sculpture.