The courtly society of eighteenth-century Europe was famous for its glittering festivities and lavish banquets featuring splendid settings and elaborate protocol that were designed to emphasise the elevated status of host and guest alike. Integral to these events were extravagant dining services of gold and silver. Most of the examples commissioned by the imperial family in Austria were melted down not long after they were made to finance the frequent wars of the period, above all those against the arch-enemy from France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

This exhibition at the LIECHTENSTEIN MUSEUM showcases a magnificent silver service – one of the few surviving ensembles of this kind – that was made in Vienna for the Saxe-Teschen family between 1779 and 1782.

In 2002 a majority of the still extant parts of this service appeared in a private French collection, shortly after the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had acquired two silver wine-coolers belonging to the service. This magnificent ensemble had last been seen in public at the beginning of the twentieth century and was long assumed to be lost.

The service was made by the Viennese court goldsmith Joseph Ignaz Würth and comprised more than 350 items including wine-coolers, tureens, cloches, sauceboats, candelabra, candlesticks and other tableware together with twenty-four dozen silver plates and porcelain-mounted silver and silver-gilt cutlery. Representing the epitome of court banqueting ceremonial in pre-revolutionary Europe, it was originally made for Duke Albert Kasimir of Saxe-Teschen (1738–1822) and his wife, Archduchess Marie Christine of Austria (1742–1798), daughter of Empress Maria Theresa.

Exemplifying Viennese Neoclassical craftsmanship at its finest, the service will be on display at the LIECHTENSTEIN MUSEUM from December 2010 together with other silver objects of its time, in particular from France.

As recent research has revealed, Joseph Ignaz Würth was also responsible for a whole series of mounted porcelain of mostly Far Eastern origin in the Princely Collections that was probably commissioned by Prince Franz Josef I von Liechtenstein (1726/1772–1781). Recently four monumental ‘pagodas’ of ormolu-mounted porcelain measuring over 3 metres in height have been restored and cleaned, objects that testify impressively to the splendour of the House of Liechtenstein and its artistic patronage at the end of the eighteenth century. The most important pieces from the large holdings of porcelain objects with Viennese mounts dating from this time will also be on display in the exhibition in Vienna for the first time together with the results of the latest scholarly research. In contrast to the presentation in New York the Viennese exhibition – not least due to the larger galleries available here – will include a greater number of exhibits.Two vases from Versailles, also mounted by Würth, and arguably the greatest extant tureen of the epoch from a private collection in Paris, which in its richness and quality surpasses by far the famous Parisian products of its time and has never before been displayed in public, will give an impressive picture of the magnificence of this era shortly before the destruction wrought by the French Revolution.

The individuals who commissioned these objects, Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen and his wife, Archduchess Marie Christine of Austria, Prince Franz Josef I von Liechtenstein and his wife, Countess Marie von Sternberg, will ‘watch over’ the exhibition in large-format portraits.

The portrait of Prince Franz Josef I provides yet further evidence of his exquisite taste: commissioned in 1778 from the Swedish court painter Alexander Roslin, one of the most celebrated society portraitists of his time, it is still preserved today in the holdings of the Princely Collections.

Also forming part of the exhibition and a particular attraction in their own right are the four tapestries from the Don Quixoteseries dating from 1772 from the Getty Museum: these were diplomatic gifts given to the Duke of Saxe-Teschen and his wife, brother- and sister-in-law of Marie Antoinette, in 1786.

The undoubted centrepiece of the exhibition, however, is the grand dining table laid with twenty-four place settings constituting the core of the service which will convey an authentic impression of court banqueting ceremonial during that epoch. Due to the large dimensions of the table, it will be set up not in the Ladies’ Apartments where the museum’s temporary exhibitions are usually displayed but in the part of the Sala Terrena that adjoins the garden.

Designed by Wolfram Koeppe, curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the exhibition will be shown first at the Wrightsman Exhibition Gallery of the MMA from 13 April – 7 November 2010. Koeppe is also the author of the comprehensive and lavishly illustrated catalogue Vienna Circa 1780: An Imperial Silver Service Rediscovered, which will also be available in an adapted German version to accompany the exhibition in Vienna. 

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