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Provenancing the Dragoon Vases: porcelain, architecture and monumentality in German antiquarianism (1700–1933)
Architects and artisans make monuments, but provenance frames monumentality in the history of collections. This seminar explores how emerging recognition of provenance shaped public perception of monumentality through a study of the transcultural biography of the Dragoon Vases (Dragonervasen). Since 1900, generations of German antiquarians and museum professionals have celebrated what they have called Chinese monumental vases in their published writings, internal reports, and curatorial practices. Most notable are eighteen Dragoon Vases, which ‘enjoyed special fame without people actually being able to identify them’ in the early twentieth century. The name Dragoon Vases originated from the exchange of dragoon soldiers for porcelain objects between the Saxon and Prussian electors in 1717, but it took 150 years for the designation to emerge in German antiquarian and museological contexts. Yet, another century later, the notorious Stasi of the German Democratic Republic confiscated Helmuth Meißner’s (1903–1998) art collections in Dresden, which included a large blue-and-white Chinese porcelain vase. With a Palace Number ‘N:2’ and a zigzag line incised on the reverse of its lid, the vase has a manifest provenance from the porcelain collection amassed by Augustus the Strong (1670–1733) in the Dutch Palace, the institutional predecessor of the current Porcelain Collection, Dresden State Art Collections (SKD). Despite the Stasi’s insistence on selling the vase for foreign currency, the SKD successfully claimed it by invoking its value as a ‘nationally valuable cultural property’, a legal category designating objects of national significance for Germany’s cultural heritage. How did Chinese porcelain become monumental in German antiquarian thoughts and practices? The author seeks to answer the question by ‘provenancing’ the vases in their transcultural, architectural, and local contexts during the formative phases of monumentality from 1700 to 1933.

Sep 26, 2022 05:30 PM in London

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