While the formulation of hard-paste porcelain in Europe is credited to a Dresden alchemist named Johann Friedrich Böttger, who established a porcelain factory in nearby Meissen in 1710, the impetus for porcelain figurines can be directly attributed to Augustus II, the King of Saxony and Poland. Augustus the Strong, as he was also known, envisioned a palace filled with porcelain objects, including a menagerie of hundreds of life-size animals. Throughout the 1720s, none of the Meissen modelers were able to animate porcelain to his highness’s satisfaction, so, in 1728, Augustus brought in a woodcarver named Johann Joachim Kändler, whose lack of experience with porcelain was more than offset by his keen eye and facile hand.

After the king’s death in 1733, Kändler sculpted the first of many harlequins and other Italian commedia dell'arte and theatrical characters, as well as caricatures of members of his successor, Augustus III’s court, from his jester (Joseph Frölich) to his numerous mistresses to litters of pug dogs, a reference to the King’s position as the Grand Master of the Order of the Pug Dogs. In fact, Meissen figurines in the 18th century included a great deal of animals, including monkeys in tricorn hats playing a variety of instruments and pudgy putti feeding bunches of grapes to lounging leopards.


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