Antiques column: Meissen porcelain recipe remains a secret

Michael Dowse
Michael Dowse

In 1709, German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger discovered the formula for pure white, hard-paste porcelain and so the following year the first European porcelain factory opened in Meissen, near Dresden with Böttger as director.

Meissen dominated the market for many decades while the recipe remained a secret.

Hugely popular, Meissen can be identified by the mark of the ‘crossed swords’.

This trademark was developed in 1720 and used consistently from 1731. Meissen is a name synonymous with quality, innovation and originality making a range of tableware, ornamental designs and figures.

Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775) was considered one of the finest modellers in Germany when he started producing his figures for Meissen in the mid-1730s, after being taken on in the modelling department in 1731.

He began as assistant to Johann Jakob Kircher and succeeded him in 1733 when Kircher resigned. Much of his early inspiration came from Commedia dell’Arte which originated in the 16th century (an ancestor to the modern-day Punch and Judy). These early figures, which he is definitely best known for, captured the drama, movement and vitality of the late Baroque period. The Harlequin is bright, bold and energetic! Figures of this period include Punchinello, Scaramouche and Dr Boloardo.

Kändler continued at the factory for more than 40 years and is by far their most famous sculptor.

Other famous figures of his creation include his menagerie of large-scale animals, all left in white and his array of figurines designed in the rococo style.