Porcelain is ubiquitous in the 21st century from the crockery on our kitchen tables to the bathroom basins we wash our hands in. Nevertheless, high quality porcelain is still valued for its smooth, shiny surface, translucency, fineness and resonance. It remains a luxury good which is used for prestigious dining and fine interior ornament. Yet, for almost a thousand years, from around 600AD, the production of porcelain could only be achieved in
. The quest to replicate the
Chinese model eventually led, in the 16th century, to the invention of
soft-paste porcelain, under the patronage of Francesco de' Medici. However,
it was not until the 18th century, under the support of Augustus the
Strong, that production of hard-paste porcelain was achieved in the West. Furthermore,
industrialization and mass production of porcelain in China Europe
was not widespread until the 19th century.
As well as being the best known and arguably the most beautiful product of
potteries, Ming porcelain was the first porcelain to arrive in bulk into Europe. The scale of the shipping trade to Europe increased dramatically in the 16th and
17th centuries, initially through the Portuguese and Spanish, but
later via English and Dutch merchants. Such porcelain which was largely blue
and white was much admired, and inspired the manufacture of copies in local
inferior materials. Trade was sustained in the Qing period. Chinese enamel
decorated decorated porcelains, painted in the famille rose and famille
verte palette were similarly replicated and improved upon in the West.
Europeans became fascinated by the Orient and a fashion for all things exotic
and eastern developed.
The above article was written by Jessica Harrison-Hall, the co-author and contributor to a number of publications by the
, where she is an Assistant Keeper
in the Department of Oriental Antiquities. British Museum