In the early 18th century, porcelain rooms became very fashionable. Porcelain, also called white gold, was very expensive so when someone had a room decorated with this precious material, it served not only to please his eye but mainly to present his wealth and social status.
The Dubsky porcelain chamber is one of the most valuable exhibits of the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) in Vienna. Although it had to be moved several times, it is unbelievable that the room remained almost complete. Just imagine that it contains 1,563 small porcelain tiles and 370 vases, plates, vessels and other items! The largest plates with a diameter of 15 cm are placed on the fireplace, the smallest – as big as a nail – can be seen on the clock. They are painted with various Asian and local flowers.
The Order from Holíč
Holíč Castle (Slovakia) is a Baroque manor house. Joseph Czobor de Szent-Mihály was certainly one of its most remarkable former owners. He inherited several rich possessions from his father, but as is often the case, he wasted or lost his wealth in the cards. There are whole legends about his eccentric behaviour. For example, once at the table at his Vienna house, when he unexpectedly invited his guests for a walk, he and the surprised guests headed straight for Paris, where the company stayed in the most expensive hotels for three days. Then they all returned to Vienna.
Czobor’s rival was the Marquis of Taroucca. Once they bet on a thousand ducats, who will appear in more expensive clothing at the upcoming celebration, but they were not allowed to use pearls or gems. Taroucca’s clothes were expensive and lavish, Czobor came in a fur coat. Much higher value came to light only when the count showed the lining made of the original canvas by the Renaissance painter Correggio! Czobor also had his castle in Holíč luxuriously furnished. He ordered a porcelain cabinet from the porcelain manufactory in Vienna, the second oldest in Europe (founded in 1718) and placed it on the first floor next to the so-called Chinese room.
Moving to Brno
However, Joseph Czobor did not enjoy the luxurious room at his castle for a long time. His eccentric ideas and gambling brought him almost to bankruptcy. Just to save himself, he started selling his property. Holíč Castle and the adjacent park were bought in 1736 by Francis I, the husband of Maria Theresa, – for a very good price even with the equipment. Only one room was empty – the porcelain cabinet. Countess Maria Antonia, née Princess Liechtenstein, Czobor’s mother, had just inherited from her late mother, so she bought the rare cabinet from the bankruptcy substance and had it built into her palace on today’s Freedom Square in Brno (Czechia). However, the space was smaller, the dimensions of the porcelain room had to be adapted. The cabinet remained in this place until the death of her second husband, then the palace was acquired by the Piati family, first Johann Georg, after whom it was inherited by his son Emanuel in 1762.
The new owners moved the precious room to their town palace on Rudolph’s Street in Brno. The furniture was added, also a wall clock made by the local watchmaker Sebastian Kurz. As the rooms were smaller than in Holíč, the remaining porcelain plates found a new application on the picture frames.
In the painting with a portrait of Joseph II., there are up to 112 of them! The fourth chandelier, which did not fit on the smaller ceiling, was dismantled and made into candlesticks. Tiles from the backside of the fireplace were used to decorate the tables. This also shows how valuable material the porcelain was at that time, no piece was wasted. Around 1850, a major renovation of the room probably took place, and seating furniture and a console table were added. Of course, occasionally some pieces were broken, these were then supplemented with porcelain from the manufactory in Herende (Hungary).
From Dubský Family to the Museum
Dubský’s name of the cabinet is related to the wedding of Emanuela, the daughter of Johann Georg, to František Dubský of Třebomyslice. After the death of Emanuel von Piati, the first description of the porcelain room was published, which also mentioned that they had acquired it from the Czobor family. Dubský also owned a castle in Lysice in South Moravia. When a fire broke out here in 1902, it was clear that the renovation and subsequent adaptation of the castle for year-round housing would be beyond the family’s financial situation. Albrecht Dubský, therefore, decided to sell the magnificent porcelain cabinet, but he very much wanted it to stay in Brno or get to Vienna. However, the room was also offered to other institutions. Although the director of the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Budapest knew they could not afford to buy, he personally went to Brno to see the original and at the same time, he involved the photographer Franz Pompejus, who created the most famous pictures of the chamber in the Dubský Palace.
The cabinet with all elements and furniture was offered to the Vienna Museum for 285 thousand crowns (€ 1.4 million). To obtain the necessary amount, the museum director Eduard Leisching turned to the government, the imperial court, wealthy aristocrats and collectors. He received great help from the heir to the throne, Francis Ferdinand d’Este, and from Archduke Leopold Salvator. In 1912, a sales contract was signed. The dismantling and transport took place under the supervision of the director Leisching himself. After the sale, Albrecht Dubský asked permission for the Viennese painter Ella von Murad to immortalize the porcelain room in its new location. Her two watercolours from 1914 and 1915 are the only colour depictions of the cabinet. Thus, the porcelain chamber got into the museum, but it had to be moved again in 1943, in order to protect the precious objects from air raids, the museum moved it to Waidhofen. The undamaged room did not return to Vienna until four years later. Since then, it has been part of the permanent exhibition at the MAK and in 1992, it was placed in the current space on the ground floor.
The porcelain room is still under investigation, its story can be traced back to 1724. There is no document about the order of the Viennese porcelain manufactory for the castle in Holíč, but above the mirror in the room, you can see the coat of arms of the Czobor von Szent-Mihály family (later repainted on the Dubský coat of arms).
The original dimensions of the chamber correspond exactly to the empty room next to the Chinese room in Holíč. Windows, doors and the corner fireplace have the same arrangement. The furniture and upholstery are original. The wallpapers are new, but they were woven according to the found original micro rests. Dubský’s chamber is one of the first rooms equipped with European porcelain and at the same time, the main work of the first Viennese porcelain manufactory. During my recent visit to the museum, I was given the privilege of being able to enter the room. And so I could take a closer look at the secret drawer on the table, the blacken tiles from the fireplace inserted into the tables, but also the spittoons, which were a common feature of aristocratic rooms in the past.
The MAK Museum was founded in 1863 during the reign of Francis Joseph I as the Museum of Art and Industry. It is one of the most magnificent buildings on Vienna’s Ringstraße. With a collection of over 900,000 items from a period of five centuries, it is one of the most important museums of its kind in the world.
Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna
Opening hours (the museum is closed on Mondays!), entrance fees and other practical information: here
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Source used: R. Franz, M. Macek: 300 Jahre Wiener Porzellanmanufaktur/Das Dubsky-Zimmer und das MAK, MAK 2018