Meissen - The Apex of German Porcelain

Since we're on the subject of porcelain - or at least we were last week - I would be remiss in not paying homage to the august German maker Meissen. Like Limoges, Meissen's history dates back at least three hundred years to a period where Chinese porcelain was the craze of European royalty. Spawned by that enthusiasm, the company has remained upright and quality-oriented to this day. That's no small feat and thus worthy of our review below.

It was in the early 18th century that international trade between Asia and Europe began to blossom. At the time, Augustus the Strong was Saxony's premier aristocrat and he has something of an unhealthy obsession with porcelain. While rulers of other European kingdoms were melting down their treasures to pay for Asian goods, Augustus turned inward to see if such wares could be duplicated domestically. Beginning in 1702 and continuing for eight years, a concerted effort among alchemists, physicists, and miners resulted in many failures but ultimate success. In 1707, the first red Saxon stoneware was created and three years later followed by a creamy white. With that, Augustus established the Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Porcelain Manufactory in the town of Meissen. Its signature "crossed swords" trademark first appeared in 1722, making it the patriarch of such marks employed since.

Early Meissen porcelain drew heavily from Asian designs. This "chinoiserie" porcelain was highly stylized and looked for all the world much like that coming from the Far East. By the middle of the 18th century, large scale porcelain statuary had become the rage and the creation of life-size animal sculptures was the new focus. Insofar as many Meissen craftsmen had never seen the animals they were making out of clay, some were more life-like than others. Nonetheless, they were hugely popular and are still made today.

At about this same time, the demand for royal table service was increasing and Meissen became a premium supplier. Many had floral decorations and were utterly spectacular in their workmanship. Since then, Meissen porcelain has reflected a range of movements and themes just as the art world has embraced and then discarded various ways of interpreting the environment. Nature and mythology have remained constant themes, and increasingly opulent designs have given way to more representational interpretations. Throughout it all, Meissen has stayed in step with the changing eras.

Today, the company remains at the apex of porcelain makers. Meissen stores are sprinkled around the world and the factory boasts of having proprietary formulas for more than 10,000 colors. The current line-up include dozens of collections from tableware to figurines, jewelry to home decor. They can authenticate and restore your heirloom pieces and will create custom designs to your specifications. Despite the overall softness in the porcelain market, Meissen continues to survive. Even if your taste runs to other categories, it's hard not be awed by their exquisite artisanship. And if your hutch is full of Meissen, you are fortunate indeed.

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