Johann Friedrich Böttger, the father of Meissen porcelain, was a hard-drinking alchemist who moved from European court to European court in a vain attempt to turn lead into gold for his royal sponsors. His final failure was in the eastern part of present-day Germany, where Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, locked him in a laboratory until Böttger replicated the king’s other passion, Chinese porcelain.

According to Böttger’s kiln records, on January 15, 1708, after a 12-hour firing, the first true hard-paste porcelain body on the European continent was produced. It was white, translucent, and of fine enough quality to rival Chinese porcelain, which was treasured by European monarchs of the time. The secret was intense heat, a mineral called kaolin (today it is known as china clay), and the substitution of alabaster for petuntse, the latter of which is still used in a variety of ceramics.

Augustus was so taken with Böttger’s breakthrough that in 1710 he established the Royal Saxon Porcelain Manufactory in Meissen, just outside Dresden. Böttger had replicated the Chinese clay body, but it would take Meissen potters and painters (among them Johann Gregor Höroldt) a few more years to bring the glazes up to the king’s high standards. By the time of his death in 1733, Augustus had commissioned more than 35,000 porcelain pieces for his showplace “Japanese Palace” in Dresden.

Böttger was the Meissen factory’s first modeler until his death in 1719. Johann Gottlieb Kirchner joined the factory from 1727 until 1733, and made many of 1:1 scale animals for Augustus’s menagerie at the Palace — 597 animals and birds were envisioned, but only 458 were produced when the project was abandoned in 1739. More important than what Kirchner made was the person he mentored: Johann Joachim Kändler, who began his career in Meissen in 1731 and remained for 40 years.

Kändler is considered one of the most important ceramists of the 18th century, as are his Meissen assistants (Johann Friedrich Eberlein and Peter Reinicke being two of the most renowned). Their output was prodigious: Kändler alone is thought to have created more than 1,000 different figures or groups of figures, from swans to stags to squirrels.

One of the most collected series from this period was the Affenkapelle, or monkey band, consisting of 21 monkey musicians and a conductor. These were prized by collectors, as were Meissen figures of harlequins, dwarves, and hunchbacks. Other series focused on seasons, continents, dancers, and tradesmen.

Of course, Meissen dinnerware was also produced in dizzying arrays of plates and bowls and drinking vessels, each stamped with the factory’s famous crossed-swords mark on its base. Floral patterns copied from Chinese porcelain were favored, as were patterns using indigenous German flowers. The names of each service generally took its name from the predominant pattern. Thus the Yellow Lion and Red Dragon services for Augustus, or the Swan service for Count von Bruhl, who became the director of the factory in 1733...

The Seven Years’ War in 1756 ended the golden age of Meissen porcelain. The factory’s kilns were destroyed and just about all of its almost 600 workers fled. Frederick the Great of Prussia, who occupied Dresden during the war, tried to revive the factory by leasing it to an entrepreneur, who rebuilt the kilns and sold most of the factory’s wares to Frederick himself.

After the war and during the factory’s Marcolini years, 1774 to 1815, Meissen porcelain began to have more in common with French Sèvres porcelain. As for the style, it was less exuberant, conforming more to the prevailing Neo-Classic aesthetic than the quirky interests of a monarch like Augustus or the formidable talents of artists like Kändler and Höroldt.

Key terms for Antique Meissen China:

Hard-paste porcelain: A type of porcelain that is fired hot at 1400 degrees Celsius to produce a hard, white, and translucent body.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

This gallery showcases highlights from the 5,000 items in the museum's ceramics collection dating from 1500-1900. I… [read review or visit site]

Ceramics at The V&A

Ceramics at The V&A

A great reference on ceramics from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Learn about different ceramics techniques and st… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

C1920s 1st Quality Meissen Figural Group Of A Courting Couple W/ Sheep No ResMeissen - Tea - 1740.Superb Meissen Porcelain Cup & Saucer Jeweled With Heavy GiltMeissen - Tea SetAntique 12-pc Meissen Green Ivy Coffee & Tea Set For 4, Mark From 1814Meissen - GroupMeissenAntique Meissen Porcelain Figural Group Two Children 19th Century GermanyLovely Early 19th Century Meissen Porcelain Cup And SaucerAntique 3-pc Meissen Yellow Rose Pot, Creamer, Sugar, Figural SpoutMeissen 8 Porcelain Small Cups 20th FlowersMeissen BowlMeissenMeissen, "blue Onion" Pedestal Footed Compote Bowl, Really Nice!Rare Antique 1800's Meissen Augustus Rex Double Salt Hand Painted Birds InsectsAntique Meissen Floral Porcelain Butterfly Bug Motif Tea Cup & Saucer, FruitStunning Vintage Meissen Cobalt Blue Floral Reticulated Plates ExcMeissenAntique Meissen Centerpiece Gilt Floral Porcelain Openwork Basket Hand PaintedAntique Meissen Dresden Porcelain - Hand Painted Flower & Foliate PlateMeissen 1710-1910, Festive Publication 200th JubileeMeissen Pink Raspberry Dragon Small Cup & Saucer Set Gold Trim19th Century Meissen Authentic Dealer Plaque/signMeissen Cup And SaucerMeissen Dresden Antique 1790 Scenic 9" Cabinet PlateVery Old Antique Meissen Four Season Child GroupLovely Antique 19th Century Meissen Bird & Insect Plate (1)Pair Small Ornate Meissen Oval Dishes, Gilt On WhiteRare Antique Meissen Cobalt And Gold Large Bowl Or Charger-11" & Crossed Swords Meissen Crossed Swords Mark Blue Onion Pattern Covered Hexagonal Ginger Jar Meissen ~ Set 5 Blue Onion Pierced Dessert/pie Plates (oval Backstamp) ~ GermanyLovely Antique Early19th Century Meissen Bird & Insect Plate Lovely Antique 19th Century Meissen Bird & Insect Plate (2)Meissen Serving Dish, Grape Vines, GoldAntique Meissen Germany Large Platter Iron Red & Gold Gilt Crossed Swords MarkVintage Meissen Crossed Swords Blue Onion 10 Inch Dinner PlateMeissen Rare Extraordinary Gold Gilded Antique Bowl Excellent First QualityMeissen Blue Onion Covered Chocolate Cup & 6" PlateAntique Meissen Covered Bowl / Trinket Box - Blue Onion PatternVintage Limoges Meissen Rose Shabby Chic Cottage Milk Creamer Bath Salt PitcherMeissen Porcelain 6 CupsMeissen Blue Onion Covered Vegetable Serving Dish 8.5x11x 6Antique Collectible Meissen Porcelain Bronze Card Holder Vintage Desk Accessory P. Donath Porcelain C1890 Hand Painted Three Graduated Pitchers - Meissen CopyMeissen Gold And White Maple Leaf CompoteMeissen Antique Gilded Cup And Saucer Set. Golden Accents. Crossed Swords MarkedAntique Meissen Porcelain Tea Cup With Saucer, Insects.Superb 14"antique Hand Painted Meissen Porcelain Dresden Grapes Leaves Bowl 1900Meissen Blue Onion Tea Cup And SaucerMeissen ChinaAntique Meissen Dinner Plate - Blue Onion Pattern - X Swords