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    

A Fine C19th Meissen Porcelain Group Of Europa And The Bull. Incised L693 Antique Dresden Meissen Helena Wolfsohn Harbour Scene Cabinet Cup & Saucer C1890Antique Dresden Meissen Helena Wolfsohn Quatrefoil Cabinet Cup & Saucer C1890A Fine Pair Of Meissen Porcelain Models Of Son Thrushes - C1975 - 21cm HighAntique Meissen Crossed Swords Watteau & Floral Cabinet Cup & Saucer C1890Meissen Blue Onion Crossed Swords Mark Porcelain Triangle Serving Plate Mji NrAntique Meissen Porcelain Mustard Pot Handpainted Birds InsectsRare 18thc Antique Meissen Jug Decorated With Birds - Circa 1740Early German Meissen Teapot Crossed Swords Ex Cond No Reserve Antique 18th -19th Century Meissen Military Soldier Porcelain Tea Cup & Saucer Complete 1921 Set Of Meissen Bottger Notgeld Hyper Infalation Coins 7 Mint Nr Meissen Crossed Swords - Floral Decorated - 12 Demitasse Cups And 8 SaucersMeissen Blue Onion Figural Open Salt CellarAntique Meissen Porcelain Mirror From Germany 2nd Antique Meissen Maple Leaf Molded Plate - Yellow/white/gold -crossed SwordsMeissen Blue Onion Crossed Swords Mark Porcelain Soup Tureen W Under Plate MjiA Good C19th Meissen Porcelain Blue And Gilt Writing Set - 1880Meissen Blue Onion Crossed Swords Mark Porcelain Round Soup Tureen W Lid Mji Nr3 Meissen Blue Onion Demitasse Cups & Saucer Sets,. Crossed Swords. Antique Antique Meissen Porcelain Cobalt & Floral In Silver Brooch, Double Swords MarkMeissen Hand-painted Streublumchen Hot Chocolate/espresso/coffee ServiceMeissen Hand-painted Oblique Floral Hot Chocolate /coffee /espresso ServiceMeissen Porcelain 20thc Dresser Box Painted Harbour Scene 18thc Style 4" SuperbGorgeous Antique Meissen "blue Onion" Round Footed Compote ~ Crossed Swords MkMeissen Crossed Swords - Embossed Attached Flowers - Footed Vase - 3½ InchesMeissen Porcelain Arabian Tea Caddy 3" 1001 Nights Nacht Prof. H Werner Art DecoMeissen Floral Porcelain Trio L19thcMeissen Blue Onion Deep Serving Platter 16 1/2" Crossed Lines MarkMeissen Blue Onion Crossed Swords Mark Porcelain Shell Form Tid Bit Server MjiRare Late 19th C Antique Meissen Porcelain Blue Onion Hot Water Hot PlateAntique Meissen Blue Flowers & Insects Porcelain Soup Tureen Meissen German Color Porcelain Putti's SculptureAntique Meissen Blue Flowers & Insects Porcelain Serving Platter6 Gorgeous Antique Meissen "scattered Flowers" Dinner Plates ~ Crossed Swords Mk11 1/2 Antique Meissen Cabinet Plate Gold Gilded White Background & Flowers MintSet Of 8 - Meissen Hand Painted Fruit Motif Berry Bowls - Cross Sword MarkEstate - Antique Hand Painted Leaf Shaped Dish Tray Blue Meissen Mark 5 1/2 Inch6 Gorgeous Antique Meissen "scattered Flowers" Dinner Plates ~ Crossed Swords MkAntique Meissen German Demitasse/teacup W/ Dragons, Gold Rim Meissen Blue Onion Pattern 7 3/4" Reticulated/ Pierced Plate . Three Gorgeous Antique Meissen Plates, Hand Painted, Single Pink RoseMeissen Blue Onion 8 1/4" Plate Crossed Swords Mark Vintage [b]Meissen Hand-painted Floral Pedestal Or Statue BaseAntique Meissen Shoe Trinket Box Crossed Swords Mark RepairedMeissen Red Court Dragon 8.1/2" Salad Plate First Quality Rust Rich Luncheon #1Meissen Blue Onion 8 1/4" Plate Crossed Swords Mark Vintage [a]Vintage Meissen Cross Sword Mark Handled Bud VaseVintage Meissen Cross Sword Mark Ceramic Bud Vase Antique Meissen Porcelain Fruit Bowl W/ Relief Rococo Pattern & Gold Highlights Antique Meissen Serving Bowl Rose Pattern 11 In.x 7 1/2 In.x 2 1/2 In. Deep Xx Antique Meissen Platter Rose Pattern 11 In.x 9 In.x 1 3/4 In. Double X1760-1850 Stunning Meissen Teapot Gilt W Floral DesignsAntique Meissen Germany Birds And Bugs 7 7/8" Gold Rimmed Soup BowlMeissen Porcelain 20thc Dresser Box Painted Great Art Deco Design 5.5" SuperbMeissen Porcelain 20thc Dresser Box Painted Great Art Deco Design 4" SuperbStunning Vintage Meissen Sitzendorf German Porcelain Covered Urn W/floral DecorVintage Meissen Leaf Shape Plate / Dish W/ HandleAntique 19th Century Floral Painted Meissen Dresden Porcelain Bowl No Reserve