REF NO : B77721


A Pair Of Meissen Porcelain Groups of Armoured War Elephants

Germany, Circa 1880


A Pair Of Meissen Porcelain Groups of Kriegselefant (Armoured War Elephants). Each elephant modelled wearing a saddlecloth and a howdah carrying three...


Hauteur : 38 cm (15 in)
Largeur : 35 cm (14 in)
Depth: 17 cm (7 in)
REF NO : B77721


A Pair Of Meissen Porcelain Groups of Kriegselefant (Armoured War Elephants).

Each elephant modelled wearing a saddlecloth and a howdah carrying three soldiers defending their position with weapons and rocks. The mahout holding a bow and arrow. On a shaped rockwork base with guilloche border.

Blue crossed swords marks. One incised ‘No. 15’ and painted mark ’62’; the other incised ’51’ and ’16’ and painted mark ’62’.

Germany, Circa 1880.

These characterful groups of ‘Kriegselefant’ (armoured elephants) were conceived by the factory’s chief modeller Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775) as part of the sizable order from Catherine the Great of Russia. Their purpose would have been ornamental, to dress a table for a banquet. The original models are recorded as numbers 15 and 16 and date to 1773.

Kändler’s ‘Kriegselefant’ dating to the 1770s.

The pendent by Kändler

The present pair were made at the Meissen factory to Kändler’s models and date to the second half of the nineteenth century when there was a great revival of Kändler rococo figurines which were reissued and a “Second Rococo”.

‘Kriegselefant’ pouring vessel by Christoph Jamnitzer, circa 1600.

The history of war elephants is as old as history itself, but foremost they are identified with Hannibal’s battles against the Romans. Compositionally their inspiration can be traced to a gold pouring vessel in the shape of an elephant made by Christoph Jamnitzer in Nuremberg, circa 1600, which is similarly modelled with warriors in ancient armour hurling stones and spears. (Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, DE-MUS-018417).

‘Kriegselefant’ by Kändler in the Meissen Porcelain Museum (MPS 001081).


Circa 1880






Blue crossed swords marks. One incised ‘No. 15’ and painted mark '62'; the other incised '51' and '16' and painted mark '62'.


Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, painted by Nicolas de Largillierre (1656–1746) circa 1714–15, oil on canvas (Wikipedia: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri).

The production of Meissen porcelain began in 1710 at the manufactory at Meissen, near Dresden, under the patronage of Augustus the Strong of Saxony (1670-1733). In the 17th century Europeans were so in thrall of Chinese porcelain, which was ‘high fired’ and so prized for its white and translucent quality, that they called it “White Gold”. Meissen porcelain is world famous, because it was at Meissen that the recipe for pure white biscuit porcelain was first discovered in Europe. The discovery attracted artists and modellers to work at Meissen and its production was so successful that in 1720, its signature logo of crossed swords was established as one of the oldest trademarks in existence.

The discovery of the recipe for porcelain was made when the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger, who had unsuccessfully been trying to make gold for Augustus the Strong, took on the work of the scientist Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus and discovered the final piece of the puzzle needed to make porcelain: that white kaolin must be used in place of red clay.

Augustus the Strong moved von Tschirnhaus’ laboratory to the Albrechtsburg Castle in Meissen and on 6 June 1710 established the ‘Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Porcelain Manufactory’. The intention was that the secret would remain safe within the castle walls, but soon the recipe was being copied throughout Europe. To signify the exceptional quality of Meissen porcelain the Crossed Swords mark, taken from the arms of the Electorate of Saxony, was introduced.

The Japanese Palace, Dresden, Circa 1722-27.

By 1720 Augustus the Strong had built his ‘Japanese Palace’ to display his vast collection of Far Eastern and Meissen porcelain. The centrepiece, planned from 1730 onwards was a porcelain menagerie which was intended to house nearly 600 life-size animals and birds which had been ordered from Meissen. In the event the complexity of making lifesize three-dimensional animals led to technical delays and Augustus the Strong died in 1733 before all could be completed. The modeller for animal figures for the ‘Japanese Palace’ was Johann Joachim Kändler (1706–1775), a German sculptor whose works produced at Meissen would come to substantially change the porcelain industry. Kändler produced other animal sculpture, including one of Clara the rhinoceros, but following the death of Augustus the Strong and as his successor Augustus III had no interest in porcelain, control of the factory was given to the more commercially minded Count Heinrich von Brühl, and Meissen turned away from animal sculpture towards table services. Kändler created for von Brühl, ‘The Swan Service’ of tableware which is modelled in relief with swans and considered a masterpiece of porcelain art. It heralded a move to small decorative figures for which Kändler is best remembered. These figures which took inspiration from court life and were inspired by the Commedia dell’arte, extended to pastoral and mythological subjects, harlequins and the famous ‘Monkey Band’, and were imbued with the playful imagery of the rococo style and came to number over a thousand different items.

Meissen remained the dominant European porcelain factory until 1756 when Frederick the Great of Prussia attacked Saxony, launching the Seven Years War (1756-63). Dresden was occupied and the ensuing disruption at Meissen allowed other factories, notably Sèvres in France, to invade markets and create fashions. Kändler’s lifetime encompassed the three main 18th century styles: baroque, rococo and neoclassicism, and his death in 1775 marked the end of the great period at Meissen. Thereafter, Meissen adapted to the neoclassical style but never rivalled Sèvres in the elegance of its designs.

Illustration of the Meissen modelling studio in Albrechtsburg Castle, Meissen, just before the move to a dedicated factory (Source: Apollo Magazine © Schlösserland Sachsen).

In the late 18th and early 19th century Meissen faced tariffs and import bans from Britain, France and Russia who sought to protect their own porcelain industries. In 1810 work at Albrechtsburg Castle came to a halt and the first centenary of Meissen is overshadowed by fraught circumstances until Heinrich Gottlob Kühn (1788-1870) assumes control in 1814 and overseas numerous technical advances. By the middle of the 19th century, under Kühn’s management and Ernst August Leuteritz’s leadership of the design department, there began a transformation of Meissen’s fortunes with a new factory in the Triebisch Valley area of Meissen opening in 1861.

Meissen porcelain at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. (J. B. Waring, Masterpieces of Industrial Art & Sculpture at the International Exhibition, Londonm 1862).

Stereoscope image of Meissen’s Display at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Considerable commercial success followed at the 1862 London and 1867 Paris International Exhibitions. By 1871, sales revenues amounted to 370,000 thalers, compared to the Royal Porcelain Manufactory in Berlin which earned 160,000 thalers. During the second half of the 19th century there was a great revival of Kändler rococo figurines which were reissued and a “Second Rococo” of latticework and flower-encrusted vases. In 1884 and 1885 Meissen fulfilled an important commission of flower decorated chandeliers, mirror frames, tables and other ornament to the Bavarian ‘fairytale’ king, Ludwig II. At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Meissen presented over 1000 items in this historicist style as well as tentative examples of Art Nouveau.

At the inception of Meissen porcelain, the alchemist Böttger had made an unlikely promise to Augustus the Strong, but in time it became a reality: ‘that in the future, given the right design and production, white porcelain of this kind…shall be able to surpass Asian porcelain by far, not only in beauty and quality, but also in variety of shapes and large pieces, some even solid, such as statues, columns, service and so on’ (See Samuel Wittwer, The Gallery of Meissen Animals, Munich, 2006, p.322).


H. Morley-Fletcher, Meissen, London, 1971.
Dr. K. Berling, Meissen china; an illustrated history, Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Meissen, 1972.
N. Harris, Porcelain Figurines, London, 1978.
H. Jedding, , Meissener Porzellan des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, 1800-1933, 1981.
H. Sonntag, Meissen in Meissen: Europe’s first porcelain, Leipzig, 2003.

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