Wednesday, 31 May 2017

parforce

Recently H and I had a chance to visit a pair of monumental hunting lodges whose architecture and ceremonial follies illustrated how the occupation become leisurely pursuit of the powerful of the hunt was a way of reinforcing fealty and was a metric of noble means beginning in the Middle Ages (parforce hunting) and articulated as a social arena for centuries thereafter.
The great wooded area around the village of Wermsdorf was a royal park for many generations and there was an ancient though modest lodge there already—but as existing accommodations were proving inadequate to impress visiting dignitaries, August II. der Starke (called the Strong for his physical strength that could apparently break horseshoes bare-handed and won him prizes in the prince-elector bracket of competitive fox-tossing—literally and as cruel as it sounds) commissioned the construction of the Hubertusburg (announced on the feast day of Saint Hubertus—3 November—who is the patron of hunters and the vision that led to his conversion is popularised in the Jägermeister logo) to showcase his family’s power.

The prince-bishops were not only instrumental in choosing the emperor, the leader of reformationist Saxony was also the king of Poland and the grand duke of Lithuania through martial unions that honoured the traditions of those brought into the fold—exemplified in the Catholic court chapel that was rather unique in the region and is the only room to have escaped plunder and destruction.
Lavish, choreographed hunts continued at the Hubertusburg, whose grounds and layout was favourably compared to Versailles—the quarry of choice being deer—up until the outbreak of that first global conflict, the Seven Years’ War, in 1755—whose own chambers saw the peace treaty that brought its end as well as the French-Indian War.
The residential palace never wholly its former glory and was at times used as a sanitarium and prison and even a porcelain factory. Presently, the trappings of the hunt are re-enacted by skilled equestrians and enthusiasts who dress up in period costumes, but mercifully the hounds are put on to the scent of human decoys to pursue through the forest—harming no one in the end.
The other hunting lodge we visited was Schloss Moritzburg, an earlier Baroque example also set in the midst of a favoured game preserve not far from the royal capital of Dresden. Constructed on an artificial island, the quatrefoil design reminds me of the Seehof of Memmelsdorf by Bamberg, it served a similar function with protocol and entertaining dignitaries.
A showroom of course for hunting trophies, the collections quickly expanded to display pieces side by side to compare Japanese and Chinese ceramics with Meißen faience. Later an ensemble of other buildings were added to the parkgrounds, including a Rococo pavilion called the Little Pheasant Castle (Fasanenschlösschen) that’s meant to invoke an Oriental style and despite Saxony’s landlocked state, it’s one and only lighthouse—for when the occasional mock naval battles were conducted in the lakes that bordered the gardens.