Meissen is famous for the manufacture of porcelain. Meissen porcelain was the first high quality porcelain to be produced outside of the Orient, established by King Augustus the Strong in 1710. The mathematician and physicist Ehrenfried Walther Graf von Tschirnhaus and the alchemist Johann Friedrich Boettger had succeeded in manufacturing the first white European porcelain in 1708. This porcelain was called “White Gold” was of great significance, because of the Chinese monopoly in this market.
Visiting the porcelain manufacturing building and taking the tour was one of the highest of highlights of my trip – so much so that I went through twice! This will easily be the longest post about my trip because there’s so much I learned! Once going through the tour made it apparent WHY Meissen porcelain is SO famous and WHY is COSTS SO MUCH!!The onion pattern is the most famous pattern created, and has been used by many other companies trying to imitate Meissen Porcelain. Its signature logo, the crossed swords, was introduced in 1720 to protect its production and was added to the onion design. The crossed swords is one of the oldest trademarks in existence and is on each piece created here.Not only dish ware is created – large pieces such as this sad lion have been created and a selection can be seen in the upstairs museum. The yellow tea service set was made in 1722. There are also many figurines with intricate details of both molding and painting.The teapot with all the flowers? Each flower was individually hand made and applied to the tea pot and then hand painted.A sculpture of discarded pieces is on display and was amazing to look at each side and see all the little hidden elements!On the first stop of the tour, we watched a short video showing how the elements are mined, broken down, and then mixed together in a water slurry. After the 3 ingredients are well mixed, the water is spun out leave the clay which can be stored up to nine months before being created into a delicate porcelain something. I was mesmerized in the second room by watching the clay being formed by hand into a plain cup and then formed in the centuries old mold, removing excess clay to form the delicately thin clay. The clay dries in it’s mold for 30 minutes and is then removed. The base and handle are added using slip (some of the clay without the excess water taken out). After firing, each piece is only 65% of it’s original size! In another room of the tour, we witnessed another artist hand carving part of a statue. We also saw how each little ivy leaf is created in a mold and then added to the statue with slip, piece by piece. Some details, like roses and more detailed flowers, are created lovingly by hand – without any kind of mold! The third room of the tour taught how each piece is hand painted, how the colors used change dramatically during firing, and there were many examples of how paints change in firing. The steps to just make one plate are extensive, and require many years of training for each artist. When a piece is painted before firing, any paint that is applied cannot be removed, so perfection is a must!The gold paint used is 90% pure gold and looks very dark before firing. After a piece with gold is fired, the gold is hand polished to give it the bright lustre seen at the bottom of the sample plate. It is only after these steps that a piece can be sold! The last stop of the tour before the shops was watching another artist paint an already glazed and fired plate. At this time, paint is not permanent until it is fired. Multiple colors require multiple firings as only one color at a time is applied. The only exception to this is in scenery, which is all painted at once.
For more information on the history of porcelain manufacturing in Meissen, check out their website!