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    

Large Set Of Meissen Floral Decorated Porcelain Tea Set Teapot EtcAntique Signed Meissen Porcelain Cup Saucer Floral Paneled Hand Painted C/s VtgLarge Rare Set Of Antique Meissen Plates With Reticulated Rims - 18 PcAntique Signed Meissen Creamer And Sugar Floral Paneled Hand Painted PorcelainAntique Signed Meissen Coffee Teapot Tea Pot Floral Paneled Hp Porcelain OldAntique Signed Meissen Porcelain Cup Saucer Floral Paneled Hand Painted C/s VtgRare Antique Octagonal Meissen Kakiemon Pattern Plate M Crossed Swords Antique Antique Meissen Pink Puce White Romantic Lovers Scene Romance Porcelain Tea CupC1756-1773 Rare Antique Meissen Dot Period Porcelain Caddy Spoon21 Pc Set Rare Meissen Crossed Swords Cups, Saucers, Cake Plates Small Rose Gold19th Century Meissen Covered JarMeissen Porcelain Blue & White Pierced Reticulated 11.25" Basket Flowers BranchA Beautiful Antique Meissen Porcelain Cabinet Plate C.1850Beautiful Antique Meissen Hand Painted Colbat Blue Gilt Mantel Urn VaseAntique Meissen Hand Painted Porcelain Pierced Cabinet Plate3 Meissen Orange Rich Court Dragon Teacup And SaucerMeissen Bowl / Dish Xx Crossed Swords 14" X 8" Incredible VgcAntique Meissen Fine Porcelain Cabinet Cup 19th CenturyAntique Marked Kpm German Porcelain Meissen Dresden Goddess W/maskAntique Meissen Dresden Hp Porcelain Tray Ornate Mold Flowers Open Handles GiltMeissen Cup & Saucer W/ Stylized Dolphin Handle Crossed Swords & StickerAntique Meissen Large Stunning Gold Leaf Porcelain 11" Dish Meissen Green Rich Court Dragon Demitasse Cup And 2 Saucers W/ Red Accents3 Meissen Orange Rich Court Dragon Dinner Plates Two 10" One 10 1/2" 1st ChoiceMeissen Hand Painted Flowers And Butterfly Dinner Plate #2Meissen Dark Blue Rich Court Dragon Tea Cup And SaucerBeautiful Meissen Jar Or Box W/ Lid, Pretty Flowers In 3 PanelsMeissen Hand Painted Flowers And Butterfly Dinner Plate #1Antique German Wood Hanging Utensil Rack Meissen Blue Onion Outstanding Antique Meissen Plate - 19/20th Cent. No Reserve !!!Meissen Courting Couple SaucerAntique Meissen Cobalt Blue Gold Phoenix Bird Raised Relief 10.75" Cabinet PlateFine 19thc Meissen Porcelain CruetAntique Meissen 1773-1814 Marcolini Period Flow Blue Porcelain Tea Cup SetAlt Meissen Art 3d Scene From Castle Park Of Sanssouci About Gold Ornate FrameAntique 19th Century Meissen Six Footed Demi Cup & Saucer Ornate Applied FlowersScarce Meissen Porcelain Reticulated Bird Plate Fruit Bug Cabinet Purple PuceQuality! Marked "meissen" Decorative Fine Porcelain Vase W/florals-nrAntique Kpm Marked Vase German Porcelain Meissen Faces And Flowers Flow Blue Meissen Onion Pattern Pitcher - 4-1/2" TallAntique Meissen Porcelain Plate Rare Yellow Lion Pattern Kakiemon DecorMeissen Horn Cornucopia Vase Pair, Crossed Swords Mark, Floral DecorationPair Of Meissen Wall Plaques W/cherubsMeissen Scattered Flower Pair Of 2.5/8" Candle HoldersCrossed Swords Meissen Floral Decorated White Card Tray1880 5 Blue Onion Meissen Crossed Swords Mark Large 10" Dinner Plates GermanyMeissen Cross Swords Marked Blue Onion BowlMint Exquisite Meissen Dresser Covered Box Hand Painted Fruit Flowers Insect BugAntique Old Meissen Oval Vegetable Bowl & Tray Blue Onion Mint Meissen Trivet Hand Painted Flowers Very Rare 6" DiameterMeissen Blue Onion( X Mark) Gold Trim Salad / Dessert Plate 8"Rare Meissen Porcelain Blue Onion Pattern Biscuit Barrel C1890s3 Wonderful Antique Meissen Demitasse Cups & Saucers, Blue Onion PatternMeissen Purple Indian Pattern Plate #1Antique Meissen Blue Onion Highly Reticulated Plate 8 3/4"Vintage Blue Onion Meissen Blue White Openwork Pierced 3 Porcelain Wood UtensilsMeissen Blue Onion ( Oval Stamp) Salad / Soup Plate.... 9 5/8"Lovely Vintage Lace Dresden Ballerina - Meissen Crossed SwordsAntique 19th 20th Century Meissen Grapevine Porcelain Ceramic Estate Pipe GermanVintage Meissen Blue Onion Vinegar Jug