Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Porcelain Beauty

How often have you heard or read of someone having "porcelain skin?" What comes to mind? Probably something like, white, translucent and flawless as described for the finest porcelain china. Did you know that porcelain didn't start out that way?

Porcelain was created in China starting about 100 CE. The first Chinese experiments were anything but white and flawless. What made porcelain popular was that it could be fired in a very high kiln making it more durable than clay. It would be another 400 years before the Chinese created the porcelain we know today.

Once the Chinese had mastered the means to create white porcelain and control the glazes, artists could create beautiful scenes on vessels and other decorative
pieces. It was China's secret and they guarded it well.

It is said that Chinese porcelain was introduced to Europeans by Marco Polo in 1295 CE. Porcelain pieces were so highly prized by the oligarchy of Europe the they referred to them as "white gold."

The demand for porcelain gave China an exclusive export market. However, exporting to Europe from China was a difficult, arduous and even dangerous process. It was valuable and fragile cargo. European demand and the difficulties of transport led to experimentation to create porcelain locally.

It would be a few centuries of hit and miss until early in the 18th Century when Johann Friederich Böttger of Dresden created a ceramic material that had the strength, whiteness and translucence of Chinese porcelain. European production of porcelain was initiated by the Meissen factory and factories spread through Europe such as: Straffordshire in England, Limoges and Sevres in France.

This story of a scarce and prized item that humans value is repeated many times in our history. Maybe it isn't always necessity that creates inventions. What do you think?

(Below: early Meissen porcelain images)


  1. Interesting. I remember reading when tulips from the Netherlands were worth more than gold.

  2. No, I don't believe it's always necessity that precedes an invention. Humans have a need for beauty in their surroundings, and some humans have a particular need to create that beauty. And there will always be some who "create" the knock-offs, like the Europeans figuring out how to make their own porcelain. That is also human nature. sz

    1. SZ: I agree with all the points you made. There's also the issue of scarcity creating perceived value and, therefore, knock-offs. R.

  3. That was very interesting. Thanks R!