The History of the Swan Service


The History of the Swan Service

Friedel Kirsch, owner of Elfriede Langeloh gives us an inside look into the obsession with ‘white gold’

Great Meissen Armorial Dish from the Swan Service

To appreciate the prestige of the Baroque porcelain ware which makes up the Swan Service, a product of the famed Meissen porcelain manufacturers – is to have an understanding of the origin of porcelain and its history as a once rare and highly prized material.

One individual who is well versed in that knowledge is Friedel Kirsch owner of Elfriede Langeloh – a German antiques art trade and showroom which has seen 4 generations of family in the business and specializes in the trade of extraordinary objects of Meissen porcelain from the 18th century.


As early as the 7th or 8th century the discovery of porcelain manufacturing had been made in China. By the 14th century and 17th century respectively production knowledge had spread to Korea and Japan – yet still remained elusive in European countries.

The specificity of its availability, along with its distinctive qualities of elegance and endurance plus a lustrous finish, meaning it quickly became an object of high value, imported for its desirability among the upper-class elite. So widely regarded did this unequaled material become, that it acquired a second name – ‘white gold.’ The Germans even had a name for the fascination that overcame enthusiasts who become obsessed by its particular allure –“Porzellankrankheit” meaning “porcelain sickness.”

At the beginning of the 18th century, when Europe finally did crack the porcelain code, it happened in Meissen, Germany. From 1710, Meissen attracted fine artists and craftspeople and became a prolific and highly esteemed manufacturer of fine porcelain. The factory is still in operation today under the name Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Meissen GmbH.


It stood to reason, that when in 1919 Elfriede Langeloh, Friedel Kirsch’s grandmother, established her art trade and showrooms in Cologne, resplendent though they were with applied arts of the 18th century, French period furniture, paintings, tapestries, and silver – the emphasis was always on German Porcelain and Faience of the 18th century. The showrooms quickly became a mecca for collectors of fine porcelain and her name respected within the community. Her customers were the famous collectors like Ernst Schneider (whose Collection is exhibited in the Bavarian National Museum today), Peter Ludwig, Max Grundig, Edward Pflueger and Ralph Wark.

Friedel says that of all the services produced by Meissen, the Swan Service is the most renowned. Standard dinner plates appear on the market with more frequency but for Elfriede Langeloh, art merchants as the are, rarer pieces like the large dishes, terrines, fruit baskets, are of much greater interest.

The Swan Service was produced between 1737 and 1742. Commissioned by statesman Heinrich von Brühl it was one of the largest services undertaken by Meissen, consisting of over 2,200 individual pieces. The Swan Service was also unique in that it established a previously unseen quality of craftsmanship and molding detail within porcelain. The distinctive design of the service is that of a low relief featuring two swans amongst reeds – a play on the commissioners’ name – “Brühl” in German meaning a damp, marshy place.


The proprietor of two Armorial Dishes from the Swan Service, featured here on RubyLUX, Friedel shares the information that among the many compelling artists Meissen boasted, two, in particular, stood out in their contribution toward creating a truly internationally desired brand. Where Höroldt specialized in the art of painting, Kaendler was a genius modeler, and it was under his influence that with the Swan Service became unrivaled in terms of its detailed sculptural elements.

Like those originally drawn to porcelain’s unique attributes – ever since the first few specimens started trickling into Europe from China – Friedel appreciates the brilliance and luster of the delicate designs. Personally, she finds the placement of early porcelain in a contemporary surrounding to be particularly compelling.

Her customers are a mix of those with a deep interest in the history porcelain is steeped in and those who are compelled by its aesthetic qualities. Regardless the reason, in true family tradition, Friedel is happy to share the love and connoisseurship of porcelain of whoever shows interest.

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