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    

Beautiful Antique Meissen German Porcelain Flower Encrusted Cabinet Cup & SaucerEx.rare C1740 Meissen Puce Enamel Gold Gilt Man On Horse Dish Bowl Museum Prov.Stunning Rare Gold Gilt & Cobalt Large Antique Old Meissen Bowl-european QualityAntique Meissen Relief Moulded Hand Painted Porcelain Cabinet CupRare18thc Early Meissen German Porcelain Puce Enamel Courting Scene Cup & SaucerA Meissen Coffee/tea-set For 2 People Painted With Flowers 20thcRare Meissen Porcelain Blue Onion Pattern Biscuit Barrel C1890sAntique Meissen Hand Painted Twin Handled Porcelain CupLarge Meissen Teapot Blue Onion Rose Bud Lid Gold Accents Excond! Crossed SwordsAntique Hand Painte Meissen Cabinet Plate Grapes Fine Antique Meissen Porcelain Blue Onion Reticulated Cabinet Plate. #1. C1880.Four Beautiful Vintage Meissen Porcelain Court Dragon Cake Plates 10) Meissen Porcelain Pedestal Egg Cup With Handpainted Pink & Gilt DecorationAntique 18th C. Meissen Porcelain Tea Pot Applied Prunus Bottger WhiteAntique Blue Onion Meissen Porcelain Covered Sugar Bowl Applied Rose 19thc Antique Meissen Dresden Porcelain Aristocratic Woman Reading !!!stunning!!!Rare Antique Early 18th C. Meissen Porcelain Cup Beaker Bottger WhiteFine Antique Meissen Porcelain Blue Onion Reticulated Cabinet Plate. #2. C1880.Vintage Antique Cobalt Blue Cross Sword Meissen Portrait Plate Lady + Man GermanAntique Vtg Large 14" German Porcelain Compote 19th Meissen Dresden CenterpieceAntique Meissen Vase Ming Yellow Dragon 1924-1934 14 Cm Handpainted Excellent!Antique Dresden Meissen Monkey Band Conductor 7"augustus Rex Mark Nr!Gorgeous Antique Meissen Cabinet Plate, Nuts & Flowers On Embossed White W/ Gold4-vintage Meissen Porcelain Fruit Plates Circa 1800's - Just BeautifulMeissen Dresden Porcelain Hand Painted Flowers Cabinet Cup & Saucer - Beautiful!6 Antique Meissen Knife Rest Blue Onion Zwiebelmuster Messerbank Signed Swords Meissen Dresden Porcelain - Hand Painted Flowers Bowl - Beautiful!Beautiful Vintage Meissen Porcelain Court Dragon Sugar Bowl & Tea Saucers EtcAntique Kpm Meissen Dresden German Porcelain Perfume Bottle Dandy Man /flowersAntique Meissen Porcelain Dresden Germany Hand Painted Gilded Cup & Saucer 1900sAntique 19thc Meissen Porcelain Relief Decorated Dish Hand Painted 12" X SwordsOld Vtg German Porcelain X Swords Meissen Blue Onion 6 Pieces 2 Tea Strainers + Antique German Porcelain Blue Onion Meissen Pattern Knife RestMeissen Porcelain Two Handle Square Tray “blue Onion” Crossed Swords Mark Meissen Type German Blue Onion Danube Juicer Reamer UtensilAntique Meissen Dresser Box Jar With Rose Bud Finial Lid & Cobalt & Gold TrimMeissen Flow Blue Blue Onion Covered Dish Estate Crossed Swords18thc Hand Painted Meissen Porcelain Saucer C1780Antique Ca1850 Hand Painted Porcelain Demitasse Portrait Cups Old Paris Meissen Rare Meissen Porcelain Egg Ornament Or PendantVintage Meissen German Porcelain Blue Onion Soap Dish Crossed SwordsMeissen Woman Feeding BirdsMeissen Powder JarAntique Vintage Meissen Oval Serving Dish Bowl Stylised Bird Flower Design 27cmAntique Meissen 6 Footed Tea Cup And Saucer With Applied Flowers/roses & LeavesMeissen Crossed Swords Cobalt Blue And Gold Maple Leaf Cup And SaucerLarge Antique Heavy Relief Meissen Bowl With Grape Leaf Design 14" X 11" X 3"Antique 19c Meissen Porcelain Hand Painted Plate 9 5/8" Floral And Landscape Meissen Collection Plate 18 Inches Across? Gold FlowersAntique Meissen Porcelain China Flowers Decorated Dish Damaged!Huge 13in Antique Meissen Porcelain Chinese Export Pattern Charger Plate To Fix2-vintage Meissen Hand Painted Porcelain Floral Dessert PlatesMeissen Candlestick Gold Trim Rose And Other FlowersMeissen Blue Onion CreamerMarked Meissen Dresden Porcelain GlassMeissen Green Rich Court Dragon Tracup Cup And Saucer Cup Has Flea Bite ChipMeissen Flow Blue & White Antique Porcelain Hand Painted Spoon Holder Rare!!Antique Meissen Blue Onion Porcelain Creamer Plate & Egg Cup Germany Gold TrimRare Vintage Meissen Rose, Porcelain, Gold Trim, Triple Floral Serving BowlVintage Meissen White And Blue Low Bowl Encased In Metal Rim - Dragon Design