The history of porcelain manufacturing in Europe begins in Meissen, Germany near Dresden, the cradle of European porcelain. Apart from the short-lived production of the Medici factory in Florence in the 1560's, Meissen was the first successful producer of hard-paste porcelain - or true porcelain - in Europe. Meissen's products, and those of its imitators, who came later, destroyed the supremacy of the oriental porcelain that had held a virtual monopoly in the world since Marco Polo opened the china trade in 1295.
In the 17th and 18th centuries porcelain was viewed as a great luxury in Europe. Court society longed for everything rare, which porcelain was. It became the fashion for northern European rulers to install a porcelain room where every inch was covered by porcelain. Just as in our time, the ownership of such precious things demonstrated wealth, luxury, and culture.
Before Meissen discovered how to produce it, porcelain was being imported from China by the East Indian Company (thus, the term chinaware). The European countries' desire for porcelain was so great it was causing them troubling trade gaps. To arrest this disastrous outflow of monies, European rulers were frantically trying to find out how to make this chinaware themselves. Nowhere was this search more intense than in Saxony in eastern Germany.
Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (who reigned from about 1693 to 1733), was obsessed with a passion for porcelain. He had heard of a young alchemist, Johann Frederick Bottger, who had worked for Frederick I of Prussia, having boasted that he could turn base metal into gold. Proving unsuccessful in this process, Bottger fled Berlin to Saxony (he was only about 20 years old at this time), where he was immediately imprisoned by Augustus. Augustus felt if Bottger could produce gold, he could also produce porcelain-or "white gold" as it was called then.
In 1709, aided by the discovery of deposits of Kaolin (china clay) nearby, Bottger informed Augustus that he had discovered the arcanum-the secret ingredients of porcelain. In 1710 Augustus decreed the founding of his manufactory and transferred Bottger and his helpers to the royal summer palace in Meissen. Augustus continued to hold them prisoners in the palace in order to protect the Arcanum. Meissen was able to protect this secret for years before workmen escaped with their knowledge of porcelain making, and wholesale copying of Meissen across the western world began.
Bottger died in 1719, and a year later Johann Gregorius Horoldt began work at Meissen, which he took to a whole new level when he invented and manufactured many brilliant Meissen paint colors, as well as introducing many of the decorations typical of Meissen. In 1730, influenced greatly by the East Indian wares, Meissen created its first Red Dragon pattern. Augustus commissioned the first complete dinner service for his court dining room, thus giving this pattern its name of "court dragon". This pattern remained in the sole preserve of the Saxon royal family until 1918, when the first world war ended Saxon royalty. By 1739, under Horoldt's direction, the mastering of cobalt blue underglaze color was such that the blue-white decorations (such as Blue Onion) could be manufactured.
In 1730, Horoldt was joined by a 24 year old court sculptor, Johann Joachim Kaendler. Augustus, impressed by his work, had ordered Kaendler to join the Meissen manufactory. Augustus proved himself to have a good eye, for J.J. Kandler turned out to be, perhaps, the greatest porcelain modeler of all time. One of his greatest works, the Swan Service, was commissioned by the Saxon Prime Minister, Heinrich Count Von Bruhl, and was produced between 1735 and 1741. It consisted of over 2000 pieces, and was the most extensive service ever made. Many of these pieces will never be produced again, as the occupying forces used the moulds for target practice during the Second World War. Nevertheless, Meissen continues to create a number of these extraordinary pieces today.
Meissen is as famous for its figurines as for its table services. The members of the royal court used figurines for table decorations, much as people do today. Kaendler's talent is known to every connoisseur of porcelain today. In 1734, Kaendler produced the now famous pug dog. These dogs happened to be Prime Minister Count Bruhl's favorite dogs, and Kaendler captured their charm with great skill. Indeed, centuries later, the Duchess of Windsor collected these pieces. Kaendler also created the Italian Comedy, composed of a wide variety of humorous, sad and sympathetic characters. The most frequently depicted and most endearing character is Harlequin. The poses in which Kaendler imagined this one character alone would suffice to establish his greatness as a modeler.
In 1753 Kaendler created 21 charmingly amusing Monkey Musicians, which composed the famous Monkey Orchestra. The story is that Kaendler modeled them after members of the Saxon court, though this cannot be documented. As every piece of Meissen is handpainted by Meissen artisans, each monkey has its own unique touch. The monkey band is one of the most famous of the Meissen figurine collections, and is extremely popular among today's collectors.
Kaendler and Hoeroldt both died in 1775, a great loss for the manufactory and the world, but Meissen's creativity continued. In 1814 Heinrich Gootlob Kuehn became the managing director, and, three years after his arrival, developed the color chromium-oxide green, resulting in the much loved "Vine Leaves" pattern being produced. Ten years later, in 1827, Kuehn developed the bright gold, which we take so much for granted today.
Fast forward to1889, when Julius Conrad Hentschel began attending Meissen drawing school. His enormous talent did not go unnoticed, and by 1897, after much training, Hentschel became a Meissen designer. Hentschel designed during the Art Nouveau period, and this movemen