Meissen: centuries of porcelain-making tradition
In a present-age of speed, screens, and instant gratification, there are reasons to hold onto something tangible in your hands, something as simple as a cup, a plate, a bowl; all high-quality products made in the slow time-honoured way developed over centuries as an important local and, now national, cultural tradition.
First time porcelain production began in China going back at least 1000 years BCE with the subsequent centuries yielding hard durable highly-valued products in white, blue-and-white, and green. With European naval powers reaching Asia in the 16th and 17th-centuries, porcelain found new customers and high demand as “white gold” on par with gold and silver. Admiration and envy got many in Europe to thinking: all we need are some chalky deposits, some water, and some big hot ovens, and we’ll be rich … apart from chemistry, the correct firing or curing temperatures, experimentation, and skill. Until the early 18th-century all porcelain came from China, which is how the present-day phrase “(fine) china” arises.
The European debut to porcelain-making began in 1710 in Albrechtsburg castle in Meissen. When the big guy (who pays your wages or is holding you prisoner) says: “go ye therefore and make me some ‘gold'”, one tends to heed those orders. Frequently in need of funds, Augustus the Strong imprisoned and ordered the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger to produce “gold”, but with mathematician and physicist Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus’ guidance, the two gentlemen did the next best thing and produced Europe’s first “white gold.” Porcelain manufacturing moved from the castle to the present location outside of Meissen’s old town in 1863.
We enter the Meissen Couture and its porcelain museum for a look behind the scenes. Why worry about modern techniques like 3-d printing when you’ve got motivated people willing to put in the hours; their hearts, minds, and souls into their craft? The basic creative instinct and personal touch live on in the town of Meissen in Germany’s Saxony.
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