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Meissen Called Dresden

The Tailor and His Wife who rode their King of Poland, would never have been goats on the royal table of Augustus III, ffiere except for John Bottger, alchemist.

They were only Dresden figurines made from the "white gold of Meissen" which Bottger discovered in his search for "China ware."

Now this China ware which the Germans call Meissen but the rest of the world loved over two centuries as Dresden, started in that ancient court city of Dresden in Saxony, financed by Augustus II. Some credit his "china-mania" to his stay at the French court. But Dresden was on the ancient trail Father John took to Sine, Kutai, Cathay - we call it China. Maybe he brought an earlier Saxon king a gift of China ware.

Anyway, Bottger bragged he could transmute baser metal to yellow gold. Augustus shut him in the castle to make it. Bottger turned brown Saxon clay to red ware and called it red porcelain. All Europe was porcelain crazy, for the Portuguese, Dutch and English East India trade was scattering cargoes of China's porcelain to the wealthy. European potters were avid to make it.


Now the alchemist John Bottger's red ware was hard, but it wasn't translucent, nor white, nor did it ring. China ware did.

What made this white China ware? Trying everything he could think of, Bottger came out of his abstractions long enough one day to realize the hair powder he was shaking on his wig was heavier than the usual wheat flour. In the age-old way of chemists, he tasted the hair powder. It tasted like clay. Investigation revealed it came from a bed of powdery white earth near Aue, Saxony.

Secretly, barrels of it were brought to Bottger's factory. Crucible and potter's wheel were set going night and day. Dishes were put in the fire. Bottger watched over them for five days and nights. The King came for the kiln opening. Bottger tossed a teapot from a sagger into cold water. The pot did not crack. It had stood heat and strain. That white earth was China's kaolin or "china clay" which gave strength, toughness to the china stone body.

The King moved Bottger from Dresden to Albrechtsburg castle in Meissen where, in secrecy, he could work out the proper heat, and the proportion of china clay to china stone which would eliminate thick body, cracking and sagging. By 1713 Bottger's porcelain, still a little yellow, was sold at the Leipzig spring fair, the first hard porcelain made in Europe. So the story goes.


Bottger had sought "China ware." His first pieces were careful copies of the King's Chinese porcelains, including the Chinese marks. Chinese forms were decorated with Chinese figures, symbols, landscapes, flowers and borders, pierced, cut, embossed, and painted - some with cobalt blue flowers. Gold-trimmed chocolate, coffee and tea sets had tiny cups without handles. Most pieces were not marked. The King's presents were marked AR - Augustus Rex ; his other pieces KPM - Konigliche Porzellan Manafactur.

Bottger died. Herold, the painter, and later Kandler, the sculptor, came to Meissen. Under them, in the second quarter of the 18th century, Meissen put out its greatest "Dresden" treasures. Europe's yellow gold paid high for this "white gold of Meissen."

Herold mixed metal and powdered glass into paints which fused with his porcelain. Inspired by Japanese Imari ware, he made red, blue, and gold decorated Meissen. He pleased the King with three dinner sets - the Red Dragon, the Yellow Tiger, and the Red Lion.

He made miniature copies of Flemish paintings on his porcelains. Turning to European free style decorations, he used his red, blue, yellow, purple and green paints for flowers, gauzy-winged insects and bright-plumaged birds above patches of green earth. His iridescent purple is famous.

So is the "Onion" pattern with its center of cobalt blue flowers in the Nanking manner and its border of flowers and "onions." Only they weren't onions but pomegranates with their Oriental symbolism of seeds and fruit. The blue "Immortelle" or Stnoblumen pattern flourished too. Its circled flower center, and its four quarters-each carrying a blue flower and curved, serrated leavesbecame Copenhagen potters famous own.


Kandler, the great Meissen modeler, shaped his cut, incised, pierced and embossed designs, and his famous figurines, including the much copied Tailor and His Wife. Kandier's Lute Player from his group of The Senses, his Pagoda incense burners after the seated Buddha, his Monkey Musicians caricaturing the court band, are valuable. So are his domestic pieces such as Children and the Cherry Tree and the Lace Maker; also his Classic harlequins and shepherdesses.

The crossed swords of the Saxon shield went on Meissen under the glaze early in. this period. It was painted over the glaze on the earlier unmarked pieces. The King's tableware was marked KHK - Konigsberg Hof Kuche - for the castle kitchen.

War rifled the Dresden Museum and Meissen factory of models, molds, workmen and records. But production started again. Acier, the French sculptor, came in 1764. He developed the Classic forms and decorations and is credited with the lace-trimmed figurines, their thread lace coated with slip thinned by sugar or gum which burned out in the kiln, leaving the lace pattern in porcelain.

European rococo or excessive curves, dainty colors and much gilding put cupids on top of covers as knobs. Double-curved handles were elaborately attached to fluted bodies. Pierced work, basketry borders, and molded and applied decorations on dishes, vases and figurines were "fashion." Acier's royal blue on Meissen rivaled Sevres. A dot showed between the handles of the swords.


Count Marcolini took control at Meissen, placing his star over the dot, incising the crossed swords in a triangle. This end of the 18th century period is considered decadent, yet many fine Classic Greek forms were made with simple decorations. But Meissen had lost its native character and become European.

Competition and protective tariffs helped shut down the factory but popular demand reopened it. The fine decorators were gone. The output for a time was "white ware."

Modern Meissen is exactingly made. Magnets pull out every particle of discoloring minerals. Fine meshed sieves and repeated strainings remove any source of bubbles or mars. Long aging or "rotting" of the batch insures fine ware. The old forms are used by trained potters. Decorations are done by master artists.

It is said no porcelain and no marks have ever been more copied than Meissen (called Dresden) with its famous Kandler and Acier figurines and its famous blue painted underglaze swords. Even those pieces with swords crossed by four incised lines marking flawed articles are treasured today. Surely no ware is more avidly collected than the blue "Onion" dishes and the domestic, romantic and lace 'trimmed "Dresden dolls" from the "white gold" of Meissen.

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