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About This Artwork
King Vulture, 1734
Hard-paste porcelain, polychrome enamels
58 x 43 cm (22.8 x 16.9 in.)
Harry Root, Doris and Stanford Marks, Fred and Kay Krehbiel, Maureen and Edward Byron Smith, Jr., Elizabeth Souder Louis, Ira and Barbara Eichner Charitable Foundation, Lori Gray Faversham, Women's Board of the Alliance Francaise
Lacy Armour Fund, The Antiquarian Society, Kate S. Buckingham Fund, Charles H. and Mary F. Worcester Collection Fund, Frederick W. Renshaw Acquisition Fund, Robert Allerton Trust, The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment Fund, Northeast Auction Sales Proceeds Fund, Kay and Frederick Krehbiel Endowment, Centennial Major Acquisitions Income Fund, Ada Turnbull Hertle Fund, Wirt D. Walker Fund, Gladys N. Anderson Fund, Robert Allerton Purchase Income Fund, Pauline Seipp Armstrong Fund, Edward E. Ayer Fund in Memory of Charles L. Hutchinson, The Marian and Samuel Klasstorner Fund, Helen A. Regenstein Endowment, Director's Fund, Maurice D. Galleher Endowment, Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition Fund, Samuel A. Marx Purchase Fund for Major Acquisitions, Edward Johnson Fund, Harry and Maribel G. Blum Endowment, Bessie Bennett Fund, Hugh Leander and Mary Trumbull Adams Memorial Endowment, Wentworth Greene Field Memorial Fund, Elizabeth R. Vaughn Fund, Capital Campaign General Acquisitions Endowment, European Decorative Arts Purchase Fund, Samuel P. Avery Fund, Mrs. Wendell Fentress Ott Fund, Irving and June Seaman Endowment Fund, Grand J. Pick Purchase Fund, Betty Bell Spooner Fund, Charles U. Harris Endowed Acquisition Fund, 2007.105
Around 1728 Augustus II, the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, conceived of replicating the animal and bird kingdoms in porcelain. By 1733 more than 30 different models of birds and almost 40 animals had been made, many by the sculptor Johann Joachim Kändler. Kändler modeled this King Vulture from life, which allowed him to animate the creature’s quintessential spirit. Such porcelain animals remain the most vivid expression of Augustus’s wish to possess and rule over the natural world.
— Entry, Art Institute of Chicago Pocketguide, 2009, p. 30.
As Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (r.1694/97-1733), Augustus II, also known as Augustus the Strong, presided over the ambitious transformation of his capitol, Dresden, through advances in architecture, the arts, science, and technology. His passions are still in evidence today, embodied in the Zwinger, a complex of galleries and pavilions designed by Matthaus Daniel Poppelmann; the Old Master picture collection; the Treasury or Green Vaults; and the existence of Meissen, the first and longest-running hard-paste porcelain manufactory in Europe.
Produced beginning in 1710 thanks to the monarch's sponsorship and funding, Meissen porcelain, known as "white gold," was the most exclusive luxury good of its time. Around 1728, Augustus conceived of replicating the animal and bird kingdoms in porcelain for display in a Baroque palace that he was transforming into a showcase for his collections of Asian and Meissen ceramics. This porcelain zoo was intended for the long gallery on the principal floor of the palace. By 1733, the year the monarch died, more than thirty different models of birds and almost forty of animals had been made, many by the sculptor Johann Joachim Kändler, who worked at Meissen from 1731 to 1775. Kändler drew the vulture from life, which allowed him to animate his work with the creature's quintessential spirit.
The natural habitat of the King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) includes Africa and Central and South America. The New World specimen that Kändler represented is more highly colored than its African cousin, distinguished by a red, curved beak adorned with a yellow, fleshy crest, or wattle. The vulture feeds on carrion, its beak and featherless head perfectly suited to cutting through and delving deeply into flesh.
Porcelain animals can still be seen in Dresden today, captured by a costly and once exclusive material. They remain the most vivid expression of Augustus's wish, as elector and king, to possess and rule over the world of nature, human and animal included. Although the royal menagerie and the court's collections of natural history specimens were the inspiration for the ceramic zoo, it is in porcelain that they have best endured.
— Entry, The Essential Guide, 3rd ed. (Art Institute of Chicago, 2009), p. 165.
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