Strong man covets the white gold
Augustus II the Strong, the Elector Prince of Saxony and the King of Poland was an avid patron of arts and decided that Dresden would be the cultural center. He also had a great liking for gold, real yellow ones. His great love, bordering on avarice, resulted in him recruiting a young alchemist work on the Goldmacher Tinktur or the Gold making formula to convert base metals to gold.
You may say, oh not another of those stories but hold on.
The alchemist, Johann Friedrich Böttger, worked on project gold for nearly six years. However, he did not succeed in producing the gold but he and his mentor, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, were successful in creating the white gold. While there may be a raging debate as to who brought white gold to Europe first, there is no debate as to how much it was valued during those days.
Yes, I am talking about porcelain. Porcelain was worth its weight almost as much as gold in those days and could be manufactured. When the Augustus saw this, he also saw profit in this process. He was excited and set up a factory in Meissen in 1710 and Meissen Porcelain Manufactory was born and is in business even today!
The location of the first factory was right inside the Albrechtsburg Castle itself and was its home for 150 years before the factory was moved out. Augustus chose Meissen because the small town had extensive local deposits of Kaolin, a clay ingredient needed for fine porcelain creation. The castle was quiet and isolated; a good place for work and creativity.
After hearing the story we were now ready for the Meissen Porcelain Museum and the workshop too. Right at the entrance, greeting us was Saxonia, Saxony’s Icon specially created for the 25th anniversary of German reunification. Saxonia, who is often called the Statue of Liberty of Saxony, is perhaps the tallest free standing handmade Meissen porcelain sculpture decorated with 8000 handmade flowers on her dress. It weighs 800 kilograms, or over 1700 pounds.
Abracadabra, the enchantment rooms
To see the magic we entered the first of the studios, where fresh white clay was being transformed, first into small balls of white then into various small parts that go into making a bigger object. Every part was handmade by creating the shapes required by hand or by using a mould or by a small potter’s wheel! The clay is mixed with other secret ingredients, as per a well-protected recipe and comes to this place ready to use.
The first Meissen porcelain products produced successfully were gold decorations. Later, in 1723 multicolor enameled painting was introduced. Initially the Meissen artists created enamel porcelain paintings of oriental patterns. Then they expanded to detailed landscapes, animals, flowers and Chinese-inspired decoration.
We were told that the white clay, called Kaolin, are mined from the company’s own mines. While the artisan was busy putting out the parts to dry; she explained that it was the Kaolin which gives the final product, translucency and other ingredients are for fluxing, color, hardness and strength.
Around this time multiple pieces are joined together to make a whole figurine, if required. Once it is dry the pieces are smoothed and sent out for first firing in the kiln. It is fired for many hours. These pieces are then sent back to another set of artisans for under-glaze painting. A few basic designs may be painted by hand and then sent back to the kiln for glazing and firing again to bond glaze, paint and the base.
After the porcelain objects return from the glazing, more intricate designs are first sketched by pencil upon the surface and later painted using bright colors by the artists. Did I say before it was magic? The steadiness of the hands and the perfection in their skills were mind blowing, to say the least. Finally, the distinctive logo of Meissen, two crossed swords in blue, are painted on reflecting the mark of excellence for over 300 years.
Now the pieces are sent for final round of baking. This time to a temperature that melts the paint particles, softens the glaze there by fusing the paint onto the surface permanently. The paint may often change color during the multiple baking steps. It is the artists who have to use their experience and talent to visualize the final color while mixing the paint.
Exhibition of Artifacts
Castle and Cathedral
House of Meissen Museum, Dresden
The museum transports us right through the 300 years of Meissen porcelain’s existence in a few minutes. From chamber pot to show pieces of varying sizes, from smallest possible to life-size Saxonia are all being created here? From dinner service to figurines to even radiators we saw a whole gamut of things that are churned out by a few hundred artisans and artists. All handmade.
We were later told that the bells of Meissen Cathedral were also made of Meissen Porcelain! We were open-jawed. A porcelain bell? How strong must it be? We always thought porcelain always broke when hit hard……no?
Some of the pieces were so beautiful and intricate that we were sure that, weight for weight, they would definitely be worth more than gold!
Procession of Princes, Dresden
Monday to Sunday.
1 May to 31 Oct – 9 AM to 6 PM,
1 Nov to 30 Apr 9 AM to 5 PM
Adults Eur 10,
Children and concessions – Eur 6,
Family (2 adults + 2 children) – Eur 23.
There are other ticket options when you combine this with Albrechtsburg.
How to reach:
By car – Take B6 main road
By public transport – Train from Dresden to Meissen and then city bus “C” to Porzellan Manufaktur stop.
Tip: If you happen to be in Saxony during Christmas, don’t miss the Christmas Market in the House of Meissen. And guess what… the entrance is free! 😀
Have you been to Meissen Porcelain Museum? Or any other such Museum? What was your experience?
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