In 1710, as a result of the work of Frederich Wilhelm Böttger and under the patronage and authority of Augustus II (the Strong, so called not for his prowess on the battlefield but rather in the boudoir, for he is reputed to have fathered 354 children), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, the first factory for the manufacture of porcelain in Europe was founded by royal decree. Augustus, who had amassed one of the largest collections of East Asian porcelain in Europe — and almost bankrupted his kingdom doing so — was determined to discover a formula to produce porcelain to rival that being made in China and Japan.
The first factory was housed in a laboratory, which was suitably equipped for experiments with both metal and porcelain. A short time later, it was found inadequate, and the factory moved to Wettiner Castle, near Meissen.
When Augustus the Strong died in 1733, his successor, Augustus III, had no interest in porcelain. He appointed his cabinet minister and president of the treasury board, Heinrich von Brühl, to have control over the factory. Dresden sculptor Johann Gottlich Kirchner joined Meissen in 1722, and it was he who modelled the first porcelain animals. Another Dresden sculptor who succeeded him, Johann Joachim Kändler, joined the company in 1731. It was Kändler and von Brühl who were responsible for the great tradition of Meissen dogs, and in particular Meissen Pugs.
By the time the 18th Century came to a close, Meissen had produced more than 100 models of dogs of many different breeds. There have been in excess of 50 different models of Pugs alone. Because of the enduring qualities of Meissen dogs, many of the original models, some designed by Kändler some 300 years ago, are still in production today. This in itself is no small miracle when one considers the political changes that have taken place over the years in what is now Germany. A few Meissen pieces will never be produced again, for the Russian soldiers used molds for target practice during World War II.
Freemasonry, the world’s oldest and largest fraternity, has its roots in the ancient world of the Old Testament. What had begun as a secret society for a single class of craftsmen and stonemasons in what we now know as Germany had, by 1738, became a society acceptable to all classes — and in particular the royal house of central Europe.
Fearful of the power that members of this secret society could have, Pope Clement XII, a member of the all-powerful Medici family, decreed that Freemasonry was not compatible with the Catholic Church and forbade such societies called Freemasons or known under some other denomination. The excommunicated Freemasons, themselves Catholics, under the insignia of the then fashionable Pug — or Mops, as the breed was then known and still is in some countries — formed the Mopsorden.
Around 1745, the old order was reinstated, and the Mopsorden dissolved. The Meissen Freemason with his defecating Pug probably shows just what the excommunicated Freemasons thought of Pope Clement XII.
Although there have been a large number of breeds, Meissen will forever be associated with the Pug. The earlier ones were pale in color with dark masks, as can be seen with the group of three playful puppies. Meissen used the same color palette for later models. Those produced around the Victorian era were brown with dark masks. All had cropped ears, and many wore collars with bells attached.
During the second half of the 19th Century, a multitude of porcelain manufacturers sprung up all over central Europe, and many imitated Meissen in the models they produced but lacked the quality, as can be seen clearly in the two models of bitches with puppies: Meissen on the right and an unknown Continental factory on the left.
Another breed associated with Meissen in the earlier years was the Bolognese. Some years before the factory was founded, the then Queen of Poland was known to have owned the breed, and it is reasonable to assume that the family carried on the tradition. When Augustus founded the factory, he or his wife, the Queen, could well have owned one or more Bolognese. A royal connection could have been the reason the breed was introduced into the factory’s output.
The manufactory produced a number of items for Catherine II of Russia, and her patronage undoubtedly enhanced Meissen’s reputation with her “large Russian order.” The “Russischer Windhund” first modelled by Johann Joachim Kändler is recorded in his work report, June 1766, where he notes: “Modelled a large dog to a drawing sent from Moscow, scrupulously following the description enclosed.”
The piece was most probably commissioned by Count Griggory Orlov, consort to Catherine, and is often misattributed to “Zemira,” her Italian Greyhound. With its feathered tail it is in fact one of her pet Borzois and is the subject of a painting by Johann Friedrich Grooth. The piece is beautifully painted and detailed, the dog wearing a gold collar, represented in recumbent pose, upon a flower-painted and gilt-trimmed cushion with gilded tassels. For me it is the most beautiful of all Meissen dogs.
Auction house Woolley and Wallis recently sold for a top estimate £8,000 a large pair of Greyhounds, each in pursuit with forepaws lifted off the ground, supported on low tree stumps on oval bases applied with flowers and leaves. They were modelled circa 1745-1750 by Johann Joachim Kändler to feature as part of the table decoration at the hunting lodge of Augustus the Strong.
From 1875 up to 1925, Meissen produced more than 40 new models of dogs, realistically sculpted and colored. The St. Bernard was sculpted by Erich Oskar Hösel, who was in charge of the design department at Meissen from 1903. The many other breeds included the Japanese Chin, French Bulldog, Doberman and a rather gruesome model of a Bulldog fighting with a Collie.
Circa 1930, Meissen published a catalog of all the dog models available, including those going back to the very beginning of the factory and all models that had recently been added.