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A Short History of Porcelain

Porcelain was invented in China and the formula of hard paste porcelain and glazes were kept secret by the Chinese for centuries. The rest of the world had to import Chinese porcelain in great numbers through trade routes according to the great demand of the aristocracy and upper classes, this product being an item of luxury and a symbol of prestige. It was only in the beginning of 17th Century, an alchemist by the name of Hans Friedrich Böttger, under the patronage of Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, discovered the formula of hard paste porcelain "arcanum" after many trials in Meissen, in the vicinity of Dresden. In the beginning this new porcelain was always decorated with designs imitating Chinese patterns. By mid-18th Century, due to better technology, competition and financial support of the European aristocracy, a big variety of porcelain was being produced. These were painted by talented artists in Europe, creating their original patterns, namely in Vincennes (later Sevres), Vienna, Berlin, Spode, Wedgewood, Nyon, Strasbourg among many others..

During the 19th Century, long wars, revolutions, mass immigration, industrialisation with mass printing techniques and lack of financial support caused many famous hand painted porcelain factories in Europe to close down. In England, however, china production was not under royal patronage and continued to flourish through the years.In England first hard paste porcelain was created in 1768, and in 1795, Josiah Spode invented bone china, adding bone ash to hard paste.

In the beginning of 20th Century, with the new Arts and Handcrafts movement and with state support, hand painted porcelain factories flourished and became important centers for training artists, painters and gilders. Some of the best known manufactures today are Sevres, Meissen, Berlin, Lomonosov, Augarten, Herend Ginori and Royal Worcester among many others.

In Turkey, From the 18th Century onwards the Ottomans turned to European manufactures like Meissen, Dresden,Sevres and Vienna for their supply of porcelain as well as continuing to import from China. Realizing the potential market, these factories produced forms and styles suiting the refined Ottoman taste and traditions. Today, Meissen and Hoechst Factories continue to produce hand painted Turkish figurines. The collection of European porcelain in the Topkapi Museum consists of more than 5000 items. The first hard paste porcelain in Turkey was produced in Beykoz, Istanbul at the beginning of 19th Century and continued in Yildiz within the Imperial Palace grounds. Today, the Yildiz Porcelain Factory and many other porcelain factories and studios in Turkey are producing handpainted porcelain in limited numbers.

The Art of Painting on Porcelain

Painting on china is a fine art requiring a developed skill for drawing and painting as well as a good sense of composition.The artist mixes mineral based paints in powder form with special oils derived from lavender, clove, anise, pine or copaiva tree. When the correct consistency is reached, the paint is applied with a fine brush or a quill pen. A special kiln is required to fire the painted porcelain. The artist is challenged by the quality of the porcelain as well the mode of firing. The final result can only be seen and appreciated after the kiln has cooled down and the item is removed. Most items need to be fired more than once. If gold paint is used, it will need one or two more firings. Burnishing gold has to be polished to a satin apperance with a glass fiber brush or sand. An agathe pen is used for etching on gold.

The porcelain painter needs to do a preliminary research on the subject before starting to paint. Many books and other publications on porcelain painting, botanics, ornithology, anatomy, etc. are available as well as studies from various porcelain artists. Visits to museums, studios of artists are always enriching experiences for the porcelain painter.

There is a variety of styles and techniques in porcelain painting. Some are highly stylized (Herend) or impressionistic and fluid (American style) whereas some are realistic and very detailed, like portraits and botanical paintings..

The porcelain instructor always starts by teaching how to mix paints and apply brush strokes . Starting from simple flowers, students learn how to paint various flowers, birds, etc, and basics of how to design their own compositions. For the first year, it's always a good idea to work on specific projects recommended by the instructor.

Esin at her Studio

Please, click on the image to enlarge

Some Books on Porcelain

  • Alexiev, Dony, Motifs sur Porcelaine et l'Histoire de Porcelaine, Paris, 1989.
  • Altun, Ara (Editor), The Story of Ottoman Tiles and Ceramics, Istanbul, 1997.
  • Aslanapa, Oktay, Pottery and Kilns From the Iznik Excavations, Istanbul, 1970.
  • Atterbury, Paul, The History of Porcelain, New York, 1982.
  • Baer, Winfried, Berlin Porcelain, Washington D.C., 1980.
  • Carswell, John, Blue and White; Chinese Porcelain and its Impact on the Western World, University of Chicago, 1985.
  • Cox, Warron, Pottery and Porcelain, New York, 1953.
  • De Boulay, Anthony, Chinese Porcelain, London, 1963.
  • Flügel, Barbara/Schmidt-Ibach, Ulle, Meissener Manier, Stutgart, 1990.
  • Geissler, Uwe, Peindre Sur Porcelaine, Paris, 1997.
  • Hyvönen, Heikki, Russian Porcelain: Vera Saarela Collection, Espoo, Finland, 1982.
  • Koshiba, Shigehiko, Flora Danica: 1790 – 1990 Japan, 1989.
  • Küçükerman, Önder, Yıldız Çini Fabrikası, Istanbul, 1987.
  • Lippert, Catherine Beth, 18th Century English Porcelain, Indianapolis, 1987.
  • Öz, Tahsin, Turkish Ceramics, Istanbul, 1957.
  • Pelichet, Edgar, Merveilleuse Porcelaine de Nyon, Lausanne, 1985.
  • Pinot de Villechenon, Marie Noelle, Sevres ( in French ), London , 1993
  • Pinot de Villechenon, Marie Noelle, Sevres ( in English ), London , 1997
  • Schira, Georges Miserez, Peinture Sur Porcelaine, Vol I + II, Lausanne, 1985.
  • Sikota, Gyözö, Herend, Budapest, 1992
  • Sonntag, Hans, Die Sprache der Blumen: Meissener Porzellan, Leipzig, 1995.
  • Vadas, Jozsef, Herend, Budapest, 1992.
  • Ziffer, Alfred, Porzellan, München, 1993.