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Die Leiden des jungen Werther thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 1

Die Leiden des jungen Werther

Tray
ca. 1789 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

The service of the fashionable hot drinks tea, coffee and chocolate was often the focal point of domestic social rituals in the eighteenth-century. Porcelain tea and coffee sets with matching trays (déjeuners) were made for one or two persons to serve themselves in private apartments. The design and elaboration of the decoration of the sets signalled their owner’s taste and wealth.

Tea and coffee were not served together at the same time, so the same saucers were often used with both tea and coffee cups. The design of tea cups evolved as the eighteenth century progressed, but tea cups were generally lower and more open in shape than coffee cups. However, it is clear from the records at Sèvres that in France at least certain shapes could be used interchangeably for coffee or tea.

This is one of a small number of tea and coffee sets very finely decorated with scenes from Goethe's novel 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' and made at the Meissen porcelain factory in the late 1780s. All have the same vessel shapes, and certain of the components of the several services are painted with the same subjects and scenes. Some of this decoration is after preliminary design drawings by Johann David Schubert (1761-1822), who worked as teacher of drawing at the factory's drawing school from 1786 and who became principal painter at the factory in 1795, and some of Schubert's designs were in turn copied from prints.


Object details

Categories
Object type
Titles
  • Die Leiden des jungen Werther (generic title)
  • The Sorrows of Young Werther (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Hard paste porcelain painted in enamel colours and gilt
Brief description
Tray from a breakfast service, porcelain painted in enamel colours with scenes from Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, and gilt; probably painted by Johann David Schubert, made by Meissen porcelain factory, Germany, ca. 1789
Physical description
An oval tray with moulded border, part of a breakfast service. Decorated with scenes in round or oval medallions from Die Leiden des jungen Werther [The Sorrows of Young Werther], a novel written in 1774 by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832).
Dimensions
  • Width: 37cm
  • Depth: 27.6cm
  • Height: 4cm
Marks and inscriptions
  • Crossed swords with a star (Factory mark, in blue)
  • '42' and a large '3' (Impressed)
  • '4' and 'BI' (In blue)
  • '12 and '13' (In enamel)
Gallery label
Tea and coffee service About 1789 This elaborate service is painted with scenes from Goethe’s hugely successful The Sorrows of Werther (1774). The novel is about a young man torn apart by hopeless passions. It satisfied a late 18th-century liking for a literature of ‘sensibility’, which explored states of human passion, distress and tenderness, and provoked an emotional response in the reader. Germany (Dresden) Made at the Meissen factory Porcelain painted in enamels and gilded (09/12/2015)
Object history
Part of a tea and coffee service (1328 to L-1871).
This service was made at the Meissen porcelain factory in 1789. It is one of a small but important group of items decorated with scenes from a classic of German literature: The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe first published Die Leiden des junges Werther in 1774 when he was only 24. The novel takes the form of letters written by the young gentleman artist, Werther, to his friend Wilhelm during the course of eight months. Goethe went on to write many novels, poems and plays which he felt were more worthy of the public’s attention, but it was this short novel which contributed greatly to his fame during his lifetime. It seemed to capture something of the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) as it is full of extreme emotions and irrational impulses which seemed to embody far more closely the human experience of its readers than the cold rationality of French Neo-classicism permeating fashionable Europe at the time. The book is now regarded as one of the foremost examples of the reaction in the German-speaking states to the prevailing cultural influences of the French Enlightenment. This movement is generally known by the phrase Sturm und Drang, (roughly translatable as ‘storm and stress’), and was a precursor of the German Romantic movement of the late 18th/early 19th centuries. There was a parallel strain in French culture too, characterised by a marked sentimentality around the themes of familial piety, the innocence of children, unrequited or impossible love and the beauties of nature, as seen in the novels of Rousseau and Diderot and the paintings of Greuze.
Historical context
Goethe's novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther became a bestseller soon after its publication. The story parallels elements of Goethe's own experience. Werther falls in love with Lotte, a 19 year old who has already been engaged for four years to Albert, a man 11 years her senior. After failing to distance himself from Lotte and his futile love for her, Werther finally chooses suicide as his only release from his torment.
Literary referenceGoethe, Johann Wolfgang. <font -u>Die Leiden des jungen Werther</font> [The Sorrows of Young Werther], 1774.
Summary
The service of the fashionable hot drinks tea, coffee and chocolate was often the focal point of domestic social rituals in the eighteenth-century. Porcelain tea and coffee sets with matching trays (déjeuners) were made for one or two persons to serve themselves in private apartments. The design and elaboration of the decoration of the sets signalled their owner’s taste and wealth.

Tea and coffee were not served together at the same time, so the same saucers were often used with both tea and coffee cups. The design of tea cups evolved as the eighteenth century progressed, but tea cups were generally lower and more open in shape than coffee cups. However, it is clear from the records at Sèvres that in France at least certain shapes could be used interchangeably for coffee or tea.

This is one of a small number of tea and coffee sets very finely decorated with scenes from Goethe's novel 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' and made at the Meissen porcelain factory in the late 1780s. All have the same vessel shapes, and certain of the components of the several services are painted with the same subjects and scenes. Some of this decoration is after preliminary design drawings by Johann David Schubert (1761-1822), who worked as teacher of drawing at the factory's drawing school from 1786 and who became principal painter at the factory in 1795, and some of Schubert's designs were in turn copied from prints.
Bibliographic references
  • Müller-Scherf, Angelika. Wertherporzellan Petersberg : Michale Imhof Verlag GmbH & Co., 2009 ISBN 9783865684592.There are only three full Meissen services known today of this type and all three were shown in this exhibition at Wetzlar Museum. 1328-L are catalogue nos. 7 – 7.12, a very similar service was lent by the Württemburg State Museum in Stuttgart, and another cam from a private collection. The first two have almost identical gilding and decoration, while the third appears unfinished as it has no gilding. This tray is catalogue no. 7.1 pp. 100-101. The scene illustrates the letter dated July 6th of Part I of the novel. It depicts a woodland scene. In a clearing, Lotte is seated on the edge of the well with her sister standing next to her. While she has a drink of water Werther playfully lifts up another younger sister in the centre of the scene. This composition directly copies Schubert’s watercolour sketch, catalogue 29, p. 139. Another version of this scene was published by Schubert as a print in red, see plate 57, p. 51. Another tray with the same scene, dated 1789 is in a private collection currently on loan to the Frankfurter Goethe Museum, see catalogue no. 9, p. 118. There are minor differences only in the colouring of the scene and the border of the tray.
  • Arts Coucil of Great Britain. The Age of Neoclassicism London, 1972, Cat. 1439
Collection
Accession number
1328-1871

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Record createdApril 7, 2004
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