REF NO : B77720


A Monumental Porcelain Figural Group of Apollo and the Muses on Mount Parnassus

Germany, Circa 1880


A Monumental Meissen Porcelain Figural Group of Apollo and the Nine Muses on Mount Parnassus. Comprised of sixteen interlocking parts. Apollo standing...


Height: 68 cm (27 in)
Width: 92 cm (37 in)
REF NO : B77720


A Monumental Meissen Porcelain Figural Group of Apollo and the Nine Muses on Mount Parnassus.

Comprised of sixteen interlocking parts. Apollo standing holding a lyre and with Pegasus besides a tree, atop a rocky outcrop detailed with foliage and waterfalls above nine goddesses:

Calliope, seated and shown writing, representing eloquence and epic poetry.
Clio, seated with an open book and blowing a trumpet, representing history.
Erato, seated and holding a kithara, representing science and the arts.
Euterpe, seated and holding a flute, representing music.
Melpomene, seated holding a knife and with one hand to her head, representing tragedy.
Thalia, seated and holding aloft mask, representing comedy and idyllic poetry.
Urania, seated with telescope and globe, representing astronomy and astrology.
Polyhymnia, standing with one hand raised and holding a book, representing sacred poetry.
Terpsichore, standing, representing dance.

Each piece exceptionally finely detailed and painted. The base portions with rocaille edges. On a later black polished wooden base.

Multiple blue crossed swords marks. Each piece titled to underside.

German, Circa 1880.

Mount Parnassus, is a spur of the Pindus Mountains in central Greece and was sacred to the ancient Greeks and in mythology to Apollo, the god of music and poetry and of the Sun and light.

Apollo and the Muses on Parnassus, engraving by Raphael Morghen, circa 1784, after Anton Raphael Mengs, Metropolitan Museum, New York, (MET, 28.22.36)

Mount Parnassus the mythical centre of poetry, music, and learning in ancient Greece was a popular theme in Barqoue and Rococo art, often substitutable with Athena’s arrival at Mount Helicon from the fifth book of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, where she asks the Muses to show her the new spring which gushed forth from the spot where Pegasus “with his hoof of horn opened the earth” (V, 250-260).

Here, the mountain, formed from rugged rock cliffs, culminates in a plateau on which the youthful Apollo stands and plays the lyre. The Castalian spring flows from beneath Pegasus’ hoof, representing the source of inspiration and attracting the nine muses, who embody the arts and inspire creation through song, music, and dance.

‘Minerva Visits the Muses (or Parnassus)’, circa 1700, attributed to Gerard de Lairesse (Inv.No. 4089. National Gallery, Athens).

Mount Parnassus was created at the Meissen porcelain manufactory as a table centrepiece and an earlier version, apparently with only five muses, is listed in the inventory of the pastry shop of the Meissen manufactory manager and cabinet minister Heinrich Graf Brühl in 1753. The storage in the pastry shop of approximately 3,000 objects and dishes, including many individual parts for centrepieces, is related to their function as table decorations, replacing decorations previously made by the confectioner from perishable materials such as sugar or wax.


Trionfi or sugar sculptures of Vulcan and Neptune, Arnold van Westerhout. Etching, 1688),Getty Research Institute, 85-B22893.

The purpose of this table decoration was as a feast for the eyes to accompany the feast of the banquet. The sculptural figurines often depicted a particular theme, with characters drawn from theatre and opera, from classical mythology or pastoral idylls. Allegories and mythological themes, such as the glorification of fine arts, were also popular.

Stylistically, Mount Parnassus fits Kändler’s style of the 1740s, and was sold by Brühl in 1762 to Frederick the Great of Prussia who used mythology as a means of self-expression and had already ordered individual figures of Apollo and the Muses as table decorations in 1744. Today it is in the Museum of Applied Arts, Frankfurt (inv. no. M.L. 41). There is another version of Mount Parnassus, from the collection of Prince Alexander Dolgorukoff, in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.


Apollo and the Muses on Mount Parnassus in the Museum of Applied Arts Frankfurt (image public domain / Wikipedia).

The present version dates 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”. Another nineteenth century example is in the collection of the Museo Francesco Borgogna, Italy (inv. 1906, XIII, 19-20).


19th Century Meissen Group of Apollo and the Muses on Mount Parnassus, Circa 1860, Museo Francesco Borgogna, Italy (inv. 1906, XIII, 19-20).

These nineteenth century versions were made by the Meissen factory using Kändler’s period models. It is recorded that a new version of Mount Parnassus, dating to the 1880s, was part of the Royal Porcelain collection in Dresden:

‘In the porcelain collection there is a new version from the 1880s based on the old models, the largest group of this genre, the Parnassus, which shows the named muses all around on the lower part of the rock, each practising their own art, while on the top there is Apollo with the lyre and next to it the Castalian spring rises from the hoofbeat of Pegasus. Each figure is executed individually with its rocky background, and all the pieces are then fitted together, as we have already seen in his earlier, larger compositions. The rock pieces are finished off like a pedestal at the bottom with Rococo ornaments.’ (Jean Louis Sponsel, Kabinettstücke der Meissner Porzellan-manufaktur von Johann Joachim Kändler, Leipzig, 1900, pp. 203-204).











Multiple blue crossed swords marks. Each piece titled to underside.


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.


Kunst und kunsthandwerk; monatsschrift herausgegeben vom Österreichischen museum fuer kunst und industrie, Vienna, 1894, v.7 pt.1, p.133.
Kari Berling, Das Meißner Porzellan und seine Geschichte. Leipzig 1900, S. 99, 187-200.
Helmuth Gröger, Johann Joachim Kaendler. Dresden, 1956.
Peter W Meister, Franz Adrian Dreier, Figürliche Keramik aus zwei Jahrtausenden. Kat Museum für Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt. Frankfurt 1964, Nr. 90.
Rainer Rückert, Meißener Porzellan, 1710-1810. Kat. Ausst. Bayerisches Nationalmuseum München. München 1966.
Stefan Bursche, Tafelzier des Barock. München 1974, Abb. 300.
“Tafelaufsatz, Der Parnass”, Auswahlkatalog, Museum für Kunsthandwerk (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1987, pp. 86-87.
Alfred Ziffer, ‘Meissener Porzellanplastik für fürstliches Interieur und Zeremoniell’, Keramos, Issue 241/242, pp. 29–52.