Wednesday, July 27, 2011

White gold in the 'Favorite' Palace

The Favorite Palace is located near Rastatt, next to the Rhine river, in Germany. The margravine Sibylla Augusta von Baden-Baden (born von Sachsen-Lauenburg) built this summer palace from 1710 to 1712. She was wealthy and the widow of Louis the Turk, a general famous for defeating the turkish army in Vienna in 1683.

This baroque palace is also called a 'porcelain castle', because it contains so many pieces of porcelain from China and Europe. The main reception room mixes red alabaster with blue on white tiles made in Nüremberg. For a long time, it was believed that these were 'Delft' tiles, faience made in Holland and imitating Chinese qinghua porcelain. But they actually came from Germany.
(Picture courtesy of Schloss Favorite)

The palace also contains a great number of jars, plates, vases, cups... made of porcelain from Jingdezhen, De Hua and Meissen. They used to be diplayed in each room. Now they are mostly kept in an exhibition room in the top floor. (Pictures are not allowed). This fine porcelain collection was Sibylla Augusta's "white gold", her treasure. She was one of Meissen's first customers (Meissen is the first German porcelain manufacturer). And it's interesting to see how popular Chinese designs and art was at that time: in her collection, we can see both the Meissen made cup and the Chinese original cup it imitates! Yes, this was the 'good old time' when Europeans were imitating the Chinese!

This visit is a useful reminder that we are not the first Westerners to fall in love with Chinese porcelain and art. 300 years ago, the wealthy and powerful families of Europe were huge fans and collectors of Chinese tea and table wares. Thanks to their deep pockets, that's also the time when the finest qinghua porcelain was made.

Castles and museums in Europe offer great opportunities to discover these Chinese masterpieces. No need to go to China or Taiwan to admire such pieces! In Paris, for instance, I recommend the musée Guimet.

And next time you drink tea from a porcelain cup, remember that you are holding a piece of 'white gold' and that this is how only the European high society enjoyed life 300 years ago!

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