Porcelain, is today, so widely available and is such an every day commodity, that we could very easily overlook just how different it was. The West was introduced to oriental porcelain as early as the mid 15th century, when precious examples appeared in Lisbon, Portugal being the first to acquire trading rights from Imperial China. Prior to this, porcelain, both Chinese and Japanese, was seen in Europe as a mystical substance, with almost, magical properties, from a place that very few knew of, let alone, had been to. Most information was still based on the visit made by Marco Polo in 1275. One anecdotal story we have involves the last will and testament left by Queen Elizabeth the 1st, who died in 1603. Listed among the Queens personal effects was a little Chinese porcelain tea bowl, no doubt produced during the Ming dynasty, probably around 1550.
This precious object, was not only considered as rare and valuable, but having magical, if not, life saving properties! It was commonly believed that this mysterious little bowl from the "Middle Kingdom" would turn black, should it come into contact with poison! This story had arrived in England from the Italian Medici court, where poison was a very real threat to the ruling family!
The secret mystery of porcelain production remained a secret until 1704 when it was rediscovered in the Electoral state of Saxony (now northern Germany) under the patronage of Augustus, elector of Saxony and King of Poland.
Augustus was a fanatical collector of Japanese porcelain in particular and would go to extreme lengths to acquire pieces for his collection; with much of his outstanding collection can still be seen today.
From these early 18th century beginnings, porcelain from China and Japan began to arrive in Europe. The appeal of the market was immediate, and Oriental porcelain became the rage. It is worth recalling that we still call porcelain "China", because, that's where it came from!
Ceramics, per se, are top of the list in being a surviving visual gauge of social change throughout history. From mans prehistoric history, it is usually, shards, or, broken pieces of low fired pottery which remain to give us a revealing insight into the lives of men and women as far back as it is possible to go.
Since the Saxon development of porcelain over 300 years ago, innumerable changes have taken place throughout society, particularly in standards of living. It is now, of course, possible for everyone to buy porcelain for everyday use, from very expensive to very inexpensive.
One of the leading qualities of antique porcelain at our time of history is the ability to reconnect with our past through our antique acquisitions, which not only enrich our interiors, but further enrich our lives.
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