Monday, 8 April 2013

Cook-Voyage Collections in Germany - Wörlitz

After visiting the exhibition in Hanover, I headed east, to Wörlitz, and the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Schloss Worlitz

The houses and gardens at Wörlitz were developed in 1765 by Prince Leopold III Freidrich Franz of Anhalt-Dessau.  He was a leader of the Enlightenment in Germany, and had made several visits to England, the Netherlands and Italy.  Working closely with the architect and art theorist Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff, the landscape and buildings were designed to be a unified expression of the Enlightenment, based on English landscape gardens and neoclassical architecture.  Schloss Wörlitz, built between 1769-73 was the first neoclassical building in Germany, while the Gothic House, completed in 1774 established a fashion for gothic revival buildings all over Europe.

The neo-gothic St Peter's Church, Worlitz

Uwe Quilitzsch, curator at Wörlitz, was extremely generous with his time.  Late in the afternoon, we met at the entrance to the very snowy park, and as more snow began to fall he explained that the links between Wörlitz and England were very strong during the eighteenth century.  England was seen as the centre of the Enlightenment, and interest in Cook's voyages of discovery was Europe-wide.  Prince Leopold met the Forsters in London after the second voyage, and the Forsters presented him with a collection of objects.  On return to Wörlitz, the collection was displayed in the house for several years, until the Otaheite Pavilion was built in the grounds and the collection was moved there.

The Otaheite Pavilion - built on a bridge

Entrance to the Otaheite Pavilion

The landscape of the gardens echoed the importance of the South Seas collection - the 'Rousseau Island' in one of the lakes imitated the island in Ermenonville where the philosopher was buried, and brought to mind in the viewer Rousseau's ideas about the earthly paradise of the South Sea Islands.  This was reinforced by the maze, where the goal was an oval space, 'Paradise', decorated with potted orange trees, the golden fruit of a Pacific Eden.

The collections were on display in the Otaheite Pavilion until the 1920s, when they were removed and taken back to the Schloss.  For the last 30 years they have been in storage in the nearby city of Dessau, which is where we went the next morning.

Thirty objects remain in the collection, and I was able to view them all with Mr Quilitzsch at the store in Dessau.

Priest's breastplate (taumi), Tahiti

Replica breastplate, made in Leipzig

One of the more unusual objects was a replica of a Tahitian breastplate, or taumi, made in a artist's studio in Leipzig in the 1980s.  The workmanship was amazing!  The replica was made for display in the Otaheite pavilion, but environmental conditions were not good enough.  The pavilion will itself undergo restoration soon, and there are plans to make new replicas of some of the collection for display.

Adze blade, nephrite, New Zealand

Another interesting story involved an adze blade from New Zealand.  Prince Leopold wrote to Johann Reinhold Forster and said that he was going to have a portrait of Forster engraved into the surface of the adze.  Forster replied that he'd just has a portrait plaque made by Wedgewood, and that it would be much better if the Prince had one of those instead, which he duly sent.

Portrait of JR Forster, Wedgewood