Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

made of coloured clays mixed only with sand or broken “shards” and fired at a comparatively low temperature, Chinese porcelain was compounded from the purest white clays, sand and fusible rock; it was glazed with fusible rock, and it was so hard fired that the entire mass became vitrified and translucent. The germ of the manufacture lay in the discovery of large masses of primary clay (kaolin) mixed with finely-ground felspathic rock (petuntse), both of which were carefully washed, levigated and purified. The body of Chinese porcelain varied from time to time within wide limits, but, broadly speaking, it always consists of purified kaolin, petuntse and quartz (sand), mixed in various proportions, sometimes with additional ingredients, according to the quality of ware desired. For the glaze the purest and cleanest portions of the felspathic rock (petuntse) were selected and mixed with lime—all being ground to fine powder. The lime causes the glaze to melt at a lower temperature than would be necessary for petuntse alone. The lime also gives the Chinese glazes their luscious softness of aspect and the faint greenish or bluish tone, while it enabled them to receive the later decorations in piled-up enamels, impossible on the harder European porcelain glazes of the 18th century. The finely-prepared glaze was applied to the clay vessels, before they had been fired, either by dipping, by painting, or by insufflation; and then glaze and body were fired together at a very high temperature. For certain glazes—turquoise, purple, &c.—which were not of the felspathic type, the vessels were first fired to the “biscuit” state, and the glazes were then applied and fired at a much lower temperature—the usual practice of the potters of other countries. When painted wares in blue and red were first introduced, the necessary pigments were painted on the pieces before firing, the glaze was applied over them, and then all was finished at one and the same firing. With the later enamel colours the piece was first fired as above described, and the fusible colours were then painted on the glaze, which was of course like glass. A second firing at a lower temperature fused these on-glaze colours to the ware. For information on Chinese materials and methods the reader is referred to the letters of Père d’Entrecolles in the collection of Jesuit letters known as Lettres édifiantes et curieuses. The English reader will find reliable translations of the essential parts in Bushell’s Oriental Ceramic Art, Dillon’s Porcelain, and Burton’s History of Porcelain. Later information will be found in Brongniart’s Traité des arts céramiques, especially in the 3rd edition, 1877; and in an article by G. Vogt, Bulletin de la Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale, April 1900, pp. 530-612.

Collections.—The Franks collection in the British Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum, where the famous collection of Mr George Salting has for years been displayed, together with the collections belonging to the museum. Paris, the Grandidier collection at the Louvre; the collection at the Musée Guimet; the Sèvres Museum. Fontainebleau, the Musée Chinoise. Dresden, the Porcelain Collection—the oldest in Europe. Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts. New York, the Metropolitan Museum containing the Garland and other collections. Washington, the Hippisley collection; as well as magnificent private collections, at the head of which is that of the late W. T. Walters of Baltimore.

Literature.—The older European works on Chinese porcelain have been superseded by the later books. The following list contains the best recent books:—S. W. Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art (New York, 1897; text separately 1899); Chinese Porcelain before the present Dynasty (Pekin, 1886); Chinese Art, vol. ii., Victoria and Albert Museum Handbooks (1906); Brongniart, Traité des arts céramiques (3rd edition, with valuable supplements by Salvétat, 1877); Dillon, Porcelain (1900); Sir A. W. Franks, Catalogue of Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (1878); Grandidier, La Céramique chinoise (1894); Griggs, Examples of Armorial China (1887); Hippisley, Ceramic Arts in China (Smithsonian Institute, Washington, 1890); Hirth, Ancient Chinese Porcelain (Leipzig, 1888); Julien, Histoire et fabrication de la porcelaine chinoise (Paris, 1856); Meyer, Lung-chuan Yao, oder alter Seladon Porzellan (Berlin, 1889); Monkhouse, History of Chinese Porcelain (1901); O. du Sartel, La Porcelaine de Chine (Paris, 1881); Burton, Porcelain (1906); Bushell and Laffan, The Garland Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of New York (1907).  (W. B.*) 

European Porcelain to the end of the 18th Century

Europe can claim no share in the discovery of porcelain, the white and translucent pottery par excellence, for when the first specimens of Chinese porcelain were brought to Europe, perhaps as early as the 11th or 12th century, they excited the greatest wonder and admiration. Cairo was at this time the great mart for the exchange of the products of East and West, and from this centre porcelains were sent into Europe. Nasir i Khosrau, the Persian traveller, who visited Old Cairo in A.D. 1035–1042, was evidently acquainted with Chinese porcelain, and he also speaks of a translucent ware made at Fostat (Old Cairo) which may well have been the progenitor of the glassy porcelains of Persia, as well as of those made in Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries. In A.D. 1171 the famous Saladin sent from Cairo a present of forty pieces of Chinese porcelain to the sultan of Babylon; and from that time onwards we have frequent records of pieces of this exotic pottery finding their way into the treasuries of European princes. With the renewed attention paid to the potter’s art in Europe after the 14th century, it was but natural that efforts should be made to imitate a material so mysterious and beautiful. But knowledge of Chinese materials and methods was nil, and for a further two centuries all that Europe manufactured in the shape of translucent pottery was the artificial porcelain made with glass, which can only be looked upon as a substitute for true porcelain. In Italy during the 16th century, and in France during the century from 1670 to 1770 roughly, this artificial porcelain was made and developed. At Meissen in Saxony the famous Böttger made a true porcelain from materials analogous to the Chinese about 1710–1712, and this manufacture was pursued in Germany, Austria and elsewhere in Europe (even in France, the home of the artificial glassy porcelain, after 1770), so that by the end of the 18th century, when Chinese porcelain had reached and passed its zenith, the manufacture of a similar material was well established in Europe, and the glassy porcelains had been generally abandoned. The only country which offered any departure from this general rule was England. The earliest English porcelains were derived from the French, and, like them, owed their translucence to the use of glass. Efforts were made at Plymouth and at Bristol (1758–1781) to introduce the manufacture of porcelain, like the Chinese and its German counterparts, but these failed and the English potters finally invented a third kind of porcelain, in which calcined ox-bones were added to the clay and ground rock to give a white translucent porcelain capable of receiving any form of decoration. This distinctively English porcelain, perfected about 1800, is not only the principal kind made in England in our own times, but its manufacture has been adopted, to some extent in France, Germany and Sweden, as well as in the United States.

It is impossible to describe these various efforts of European potters without a certain amount of overlapping, for during the 18th century all the three kinds of European porcelain were struggling for supremacy. It is advisable, therefore, to keep clearly in mind which kind of porcelain is in question, for many problems of manufacture and decoration are absolutely determined by the nature of the materials.

EB1911 Ceramics - Florentine Potter’s mark.jpg
Florentine Potter’s mark.

If we could trust to documentary evidence alone, the earliest European porcelains were made at Venice in 1470, and again in 1519; while we also read of its manufacture at Ferrara in 1561.[1] Unfortunately, documentary evidence alone is not conclusive, and the first European porcelain, known from actual specimens as well as by documentary evidence, was that made at Florence in the laboratory of Francesco de’ Medici, between 1575 and 1585. Specimens of this rare porcelain are to be found only in great museums and private collections, where they rank among our chief ceramic treasures. They show clearly that the Florentine potters never fully mastered their difficult material, for the ware is always imperfect and compares indifferently in whiteness and translucence with fine porcelain, while the glaze is neither smoothly melted nor free from defects. Obviously the effect of Chinese blue and white porcelain was aimed at, the decorations, reminiscent of the style of the Persian pot-painters, being executed in cobalt blue alone. These rare and interesting pieces bear distinctive marks; for at their period the use of painters’ marks or monograms had become fairly general on artistic pottery in Europe. One of the best known marks is the “palle” or balls of the arms of the Medici family, bearing the letters “F M M E D II.” for “Franciscus Medici Magnus Etruriae Dux II.”; while other pieces have a rude representation of the Great Dome of Florence and the letter “F.”

Fortunately, too, besides the few specimens of Florentine porcelain that have survived to our day a manuscript has been

  1. See Drake, Sir W., Venetian Ceramics; and Davillier, Baron Ch., Les Origines de la porcelaine en Europe.