“(...) and it was the famous Saxon porcelain from Myszna (Meissen)”

The trademark of Porcelain Manufactory in Meissen,source: Wikipedia, public domain

Two curved and crossed cobalt swords are the hallmark of the porcelain factory in Meissen and have marked its products for over three hundred years. The Meissen Royal Factory first started the production of European porcelain. Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, in collaboration with Johann Friedrich Böttger, discovered the closely guarded secret of its production in 1708. Under Böttger’s supervision, pursuant to the Royal Decree, in 1710, Kursächsische Manufaktur started to function in the castle of Albrechtsburg in Meissen. The activity of the Meissen factory was divided into several periods, named after the artists employed at the time. Each one of them was a genuine, creative personality, who imparted a unique style to the factory products.
The initial period (1710–1719), under the management of Böttger, was a time of experiments in the field of production. The first European proto-porcelain was the so-called Böttger’s red stoneware, which did not require glazing. Johann Jakob Irminger — a goldsmith — was employed in 1711. He adapted the forms of traditional metal utensils for the new material. Further experiments conducted by Böttger, aimed at obtaining a snow-white shade of porcelain, did not bring satisfactory results, and eventually enabled him to achieve a yellowish colour. Despite various attempts at developing pigments and methods of under- and over-glaze painting, the glaze itself was also imperfect. Böttger’s death, in 1719, put an end to this pioneering phase of the factory’s operation.
The work of the painter, Johann Gregorius Höroldt, started the next stage of technological and artistic development. He turned out to be a brilliant paint specialist or rather the creator of the European onglaze painting decoration on porcelain. Creating motifs for his own products, Höroldt copied the patterns of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. During that period, produced porcelain was extremely exquisitely decorated with chinoiserie, motifs of “Indian blossoms”, various paintings, and landscapes. In the Meissen factory, Höroldt organized a painting workshop, where many prominent painters and technologists worked. That time in the factory’s activity was labelled the pictorial period (1719–1731), because, in the field of decoration, painters gained supremacy over sculptors and modelers who worked in the factory at the time.
This situation reversed, when the next phase — called the sculptural period (1731–1763) — commenced. In that period of time, Joachim Kändler was the master modeler. He was considered to be the father of European porcelain sculpture, because he revolutionized the character of Meissen products by emphasizing their plasticity. After 1736, Kändler — as well as making the previously produced porcelain sculptures — began to create small ceramic figurines inspired by court life. For example, he created a great number of “crinoline” statuettes (from crinolines of female figures), actors of commedia dellarte, and famous figures of Polish men and .[2] His resources expanded in the second half of the 18th century. Further figures were created, including characters from genre art scenes, such as figurines of craftsmen, villagers, and beggars, as well as the famous Monkey Orchestra (Affenkapelle ware).[3] Kändler’s best works include: the tableware set made for Aleksander Józef Sułkowski (1735–1737) — the first such set produced at the factory — and the most magnificent Meissen’s Swan Tableware, created for the then factory’s manager and the later Saxon minister: Heinrich Brühl (1737–1742).
During this period, the paint room, still managed by Höroldt (until 1765), was — in line with the spirit of that era — dominated by the rococo theme of light and delicate court and pastoral scenes in the style of Watteau and Boucher. The previously popular “Indian blossoms” were replaced by the theme of naturalistic representations of plants and insects inspired by botanical patterns, called”.[4] However, since 1739, thanks to the improved technique of cobalt underglaze painting, the production of ceramics, decorated with one of the most famous Meissen decorative motifs — “blue onion” — began.[5]
In the 2nd half of the 18th century, the secrets of porcelain production were no longer a mystery. As a result, Meissen lost the monopoly on its production. At that time, there were already many rival manufacturers in Europe, whose products were maintained at a high artistic level. However, Meissen was still the forerunner in the field of porcelain production technique. During the time when the manager of the Meissen factory was Camill Marcolini (1773–1813), its products imitated French porcelain from Sèvres. Items were glazed in white, which made them look like antique marble. After 1814, in Meissen, imitations of products from the popular Wedgwood factory in England were produced: specifically, ceramics with a white relief on a pastel, matte background. The following periods of the Meissen factory’s work introduced changes in the forms and types of product decoration, according to the current fashion of the prevailing era.
Undoubtedly, the highest artistic level of the workshop in Meissen was reached in the mid-18th century, during the stewardship of Höroldt and Kändler. The patterns of glaze painting developed at that time and the types of porcelain sculptures established a characteristic repertoire, according to which traditional Meissen porcelain has been manufactured to this day.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Ludwig Danckwert, Leksykon porcelany europejskiej, tłum. Agata Bobkiewicz, Barbara Bukowska, Roman Warszewski, Gdańsk 2008;
Jan Diviš, Porcelana europejska, Warszawa 1984;
Zygmunt Gloger, Encyklopedia staropolska ilustrowana, t. 4, Warszawa 1903;
Ingelore Menzhausen, Stara porcelana miśnieńska w Dreźnie, tłum. Andrzej Dulewicz, Warszawa 1990;
Maria Piątkiewicz-Dereniowa, Porcelana miśnieńska w zbiorach wawelskich. Katalog zbiorów, t. 1–2, Kraków 1983;
Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, red. Krystyna Kubalska-Sulkiewicz, Warszawa 1996.

[1] “Indian flowers” is a decorative motif taken from the decoration of Chinese porcelain, formed out of lush bushes, flowering chrysanthemums and peonies, maintained in red and purple colours.
[2] Polish figurines belonged to the category of “costume” art. Sarmatian culture with its eastern costumes was oriental for a Saxon court dominated by French fashion.
[3] Porcelain figurines were usually selected from several thematic groups and composed into scenes which, depending on the configuration of the characters, expressed various contents. Placed in such positions on a mirror pane in the middle of the table, they served as its decoration during the meal, called surtout de table.
[4] The term Deutsche Blumen refers to several types of floral decorations, namely “graphic” and “shaded” flowers, modelled on printmaking, very drawing-like (1735-1745); “naturalistic” flowers, painted on the basis of botanical compendia (1745-1765); and “mannerist” flowers which are compositions of bizarre bouquets (after 1765).
[5] Zwiebelmuster is a decoration of an oriental type. Its pattern is created from a bamboo shoot (schakiako) entwined with a branch (clematis), and from a branch of chrysanthemum and a Japanese flower (ominashi), which are framed with pomegranate and peach fruits, which makes it looks like the titular onion.