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    

Antique Gold Gilt Embossed Meissen Porcelain Footed Cup Saucer Classical Motif Large Meissen GroupMeissen - 32.cm 6 Meissen Pink Purple Indian Painting 9-5/8" Dinner Plates W/ Gold TrimPair Meissen Raspberry Pink Indian Painting Cup & Saucers, 1 Demitasse Size19thc Meissen Porcelain Flower Encrusted & Insect Painted Box & Cover4 Meissen Pink Purple Indian Painting 10" Dinner Plates W/ Gold TrimPair Meissen Raspberry Pink Indian Painting Pattern Demitasse Cup & Saucer Sets Two Meissen Raspberry Pink Purple Indian Painting Pattern Oval Serving PlattersPair Of 19thc Meissen Porcelain Handpainted Fruits & Flowers Dessert Plates18thc Meissen Marcolini Porcelain Handpainted Fruits & Flowers Cup & Saucer6x 18thc Meissen Marcolini Porcelain Handpainted Fruits & Flowers Saucers & DishMeissen Raspberry Pink Purple Indian Painting Pattern Large Oval Serving PlatterGorgeous Antique Meissen Cobalt & Gilt Overlapping Leaf-form 9.5" Cheese PlateThree Meissen Blue Indian Painting 8" Salad PlatesMeissen Pink Purple Indian Painting Pattern Sugar BowlRare! Antique C1850 Meissen Figural Perfume Scent Bottle - For RestorationMeissen Cobalt & Heavy Gilt Tea Cup And Saucer First Quality & Brilliant!!Fine Antique Porcelain Winged Cherubs Candle Holder Meissen Mark 18/19th C.Great Beautiful Antique Meissen Porcelain Angel Mending A Broken Heart L-101Quality Large Antique Meissen Porcelain Fruits And Gilt Floral PlateExcellent Late 19thc Meissen Very Large Tea Pot, Onion Pattern.Antique 19thc Meissen Porcelain Hand Painted Chinoiserie Ormolu Trinket Box Meissen Oriental Theme With Dragon Demitasse Cup & Saucer Blue Crossed SwordsVintage Meissen Bird19th C Meissen Porcelain Miniature Bamboo Shaped Floral Teapot18thc Meissen Porcelain Coffee Cup - C1770-74 - En Camieu Cherubs Meissen Pink Rose Pattern Cup & Saucer W/ Gold TrimVery Old Meissen Empire Pink Rose Coffee Pot Figural Head Spout + Cup & SaucerBeautiful Cobalt Blue Floral Meissen Demitasse Cup & Saucer Set 2 Antique Meissen Barber Perfume Vanity Bottles Flower Fruit Hand Painted InsectSet 10 Meissen Green Ivy Pot De Creme Covered Bowls 2004 Meissen Tiger & Dragon Motif Tall Vase 38/50 W/ Certificate Marked 16 1/2" Meissen Porcelain Cache Pot W/ Aster & TulipRare Antique Meissen Blue Onion Pattern Porcelain Sterling Silver Salt Dip BccPair Meissen Blue Onion 8-1/8" Plates With Gold Trim & Pierced RimsMeissen Blue Onion Oil Lamp First Quality Crossed Swords MarkV Rare 18thc Meissen Group An Allegory Of Earth By J J Kaendler C1745 Adams P71Antique 19th C Meissen Dresden Handpainted Reticulated PlateAntique Meissen Marcolini Hand Painted Bowl And Cover C. 1774-1814 MarkedAntique Meissen Porcelain Collector Plate 1815 - 1860Antique Meissen Cobalt Blue & Gold Porcelain Vase 01Early Meissen Master Salt Cellar Bowl Hand Painted Flowers Trinket Dish FuschiaSet 6 Larger Meissen Green Ivy Pot De Creme Covered Bowls Meissen Painted 6" Plate W/ Pair Swans & CranesC1950 H/p Meissen Porcelain Coffee Pot White With 24 Karat Gold Embellishments Very Rare Antique Meissen Porcelain Sugar & Creamer Set Gold Gilt YellowPair Antique Meissen 11" Cabinet Bowls, Raised Vining Morning Glory Flowers,goldPair Antique Meissen Cabinet Plates, 8.5" & 10.5" Underglaze Flowers Raised GoldMeissen Blue Onion 8-1/8" Plate With Pierced RimVintage 19th Century Meissen Dresden Flower Blue Cross Swords Bowl #3Antique Meissen Cobalt Blue & Gold Porcelain Vase 02Excellent Carl Thieme, Meissen, Dresden Wood Cutter Children. Early 20thc.Antique Meissen Porcelain Crossed Swords Vase - Scattered FlowersMeissen Blue Flowers Individual Teapot & 2 Cup & Saucer SetsAntique 19thc Meissen Polychrome Coffee Cup - Circa 1880Antique C1850 Meissen 'lady's Head' Floral Encrusted Ring Tray DishStunning C19th Meissen Footed Dish & Lid, Encrusted With Many Fruits And FlowersVintage 19th Century Meissen Dresden Flower Blue Cross Swords Bowl #1Antique Meissen Cabinet Bowl / Plate Raised Lion Heads & Celtic Designs, Gold