Once Europe got hold of that one essential ingredient — kaolin — needed to make porcelain pottery the way the Chinese did, there was no looking back
Porcelain is the most important part of pottery. It is a fine-grained, translucent, hard-bodied ware.
The Chinese came up with porcelain, but the time of its discovery remains a matter of dispute. Some say it happened during the period of the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D); others put it between 218.B.C. and 205 A.D. There is no doubt, however, that porcelain’s greatest triumphs were in China.
From their first appearance in the 15th century, Chinese porcelains were highly-valued by the Europeans for the brilliant whiteness of their hard body and inviting surface for decorations.
When tea and coffee drinking turned fashionable among the nobility, porcelain ware became much sought-after objects. Kings like Augustus of Saxony and Poland spent huge sums to import Chinese porcelain.
To prevent the drain of gold to China, attempts were made in Europe to produce Chinese-type ceramics.
In one effort, potters covered their earthen ware with white enamel slip and tried to pass them off as Chinese porcelain.
In Venice, clay was mixed with common glass and the products were palmed off as Chinese porcelains. A factory was set up in Florence by its merchant ruler Francesco di Medici to make hard-paste porcelain.
But all these attempts failed because they lacked one essential ingredient — kaolin — available in China. The secret was found and success attained at Dresden, Germany, where Bottger, a chemist, made true hard-paste porcelain with the help of coditz, a local clay, which is kaolin.
This was in 1709. The products of Dresden soon became a rage in many courts of Europe. The success of Meissen (Dresden) stimulated the growth of porcelain factories in Europe. One such porcelain factory was ‘Vienna’.
The Vienna porcelain factory, set up in 1719, was taken over by the Austrian government in 1744. First rate painters and modellers were employed to make first class wares.
No doubt, its hard-paste products gave stiff competition to Dresden. One of its leading artists was the sculptor Grassi, whose products included enamel-decorated small figures and biscuit figures (unglazed) in the neo-classical style.
But by far the best wares of Vienna consist of vases and plates enriched with miniature pictures. Particularly interesting are its 19th century products decorated with paintings done in the manner of Angelica Kauffmann, a lady painter of great renown.
The mark affixed to Vienna porcelain from 1749 to 1820 and repeated afterwards until its closure in 1869 was a shield, also called sometimes a beehive, in blue. A good number of Vienna porcelains are present in the Salarjung Museum.
A vase with bird handles and painted pastoral scenes goes back to the second period of the factory’s existence, from 1744 to 1780. Exhibited in the collection are a few plates embellished with rich relief gild work and delectable painting done in the style of Ms Kaufmann. Also on show are a few Tea services decorated with figures of classical ladies.
Dep. Keeper (Retd.)
Salar Jung Museum