Chinoiserie and the Palace at Pillnitz
Yesterday we visited the splendid water palace at Pillnitz on the outskirts of the German city of Dresden. The image above shows just one of the wings that makes up this vast abode commissioned by the Saxon ruler Augustus the Strong, as a summer residence in the early eighteenth century. Augustus was an extravagant monarch and the current regal character of Dresden is largely due to his legacy. The city is abundant with the monuments and art works which were built or acquired during his reign. Augustus’s appreciation for Chinese art may be seen in the magnificent collection of porcelain housed in the Zwinger palace in Dresden.
Chinese art works were highly fashionable in Europe between the late seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries and soon a new style was developed, a harmonious fusion between the rococco and Chinese styles known as Chinoiserie. In keeping with the times two large wings of the water palace, one of which over looks the meandering river Elbe, were designed in a baroque – chinoiserie esque style by Mattheus Poppelmann and Zacharaias Longuelone. The resulting palaces are pleasingly fairy-tale like (just as palaces should be!) but still remain entirely sympathetic to their Germanic surroundings. The Chinese influence in the architecture itself is subtle, mostly evident in the wonderful curvature of the many roofs and turrets. It is in the murals which decorate the facades of the buildings that the chinoiserie style has been unashamedly adopted. These lovely images echo those used on ceramic vases and crockery and as such lend a homely, rather than austere atmosphere to the palace. The palace must have made an ideal summer retreat (though Augustus is reported to have soon grown bored with it!). With its delightful combination of styles, tranquil situation and beautiful landscaped gardens one is, in no time at all, transported far away from any mundane reality.