Porcelain

Porcelain During the early 18th century, Europeans developed the formulae and technology necessary to produce the strong, thin, white-bodied ceramic known as porcelain, some 1100 years after the Chinese invented it. Porcelain was so highly valued in the Western world that wealthy collectors displayed their collections not in large breakfronts or atop delicate tea tables, but in entire, opulently decorated rooms filled floor-to-ceiling with this highly sought after “white gold.” Augustus the Strong (1670–1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, built an entire palace to hold his 20,000 piece collection of Asian porcelain and eventually sponsored the discovery and production of Europe’s first hard-paste porcelain at a factory founded in 1710 in Meissen, Germany. By the 1740s, the French—under the leadership of the monarch and his court—and the British—without royal support—had produced their own versions of soft-paste porcelain, a less durable ceramic body than the hard-paste type. The workers at the Meissen manufactory were sworn to secrecy regarding their formulae for porcelain, and the competition between countries to make the finest European wares was fierce. The Honolulu Museum of Art’s floor-to-ceiling ceramics display evokes the great porcelain rooms of the 18th century and focuses on three major styles: Chinoiserie, Rococo, and blue-andwhite. The Chinoiserie and blue-and-white designs reflect a strong Asian influence, while Rococo designs are a purely Western aesthetic, whose motifs and ornamentation find equivalents in early 18th-century painting, sculpture, and architecture.
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