History of European Porcelain

Throughout the centuries, a disciplined, strict demand for the highest quality moved the art of porcelain making forward. Each kiln from the past can be easily identified by archaeologists due to the mountain of pottery shards nearby. These piles of broken wares were not pieces that were dropped or that came out of the kiln misshapen; these were pieces – numbering in the tens of thousands even at the smaller operations – that failed to make the cut. Quality was never compromised in the production of porcelain in China. Once the Chinese established trade routes to the western world through the Silk Road, new markets emerged for the fine porcelain. The Chinese standards of allowing only the highest quality products to be sold sparked ravenous demand throughout the developing world.

By the 17th century, European traders had finally caught on and a mania for fine porcelain set in. The result was a feverish demand for a product likely never before seen in the developing world’s economy. Millions of pieces of porcelain started to move through China’s open trading port of Canton. Historically an isolationist nation, China’s borders were closed to outsiders. Foreigners, with the particular exception of Jesuit missionaries, who spent decades building diplomatic relations with Chinese royalty, were still forbidden from entering The Forbidden Kingdom. But with the appropriate government licensing, select merchants were allowed to purchase goods at the port for exporting back to their home countries. The East India Company was the main exporter to Europe at this time. The porcelain started to become known more colloquially as “china,” named so because of its origin. But within a hundred years the demand would drop dramatically due to another emerging market. European craftsmen, with the help of a traveling priest, had caught on to the methods and techniques of the porcelain craft. From that point until this day, the porcelain produced in Europe would rival those high standards of quality set in China so long ago, and demand for the porcelain being created would continue into the present day.

The local manufacture of porcelain in Europe begin with a series of trial and error attempts by craftsmen familiar with making traditional pottery. They studied the Chinese porcelain and worked to match the quality of the pieces, which were gaining in popularity among the upper classes. But it wasn’t until 1712 that the secrets were finally revealed. A traveling Jesuit priest named Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles was fascinated by the manufacture of porcelain in China, where he was stationed as a missionary priest. d’Entrecolles wrote to his superior in Paris, where the headquarters of the French Jesuit missions to China and India was located, about the techniques he witnessed at the Chinese porcelain factories. This series of letters were published and became hugely popular throughout Europe, where artisans were still working, diligently yet unsuccessfully, to reproduce the fine “china” tea sets, bowls, vases, figurines and other items that were in such high demand.

With the trade secretes now published, the game changed. The importance of the type of clay and its composite minerals, including kaolinite, feldspar, alabaster and others, were understood by European potters and the production of fine porcelain began in earnest in the west.

The appetite for porcelain would only increase over the years. In fact, many of the very first manufacturers of porcelain in Europe remain in business to this today, producing tens of thousands of finely-crafted, handmade pieces still very much in demand. This is where Interior Place purchases its large orders of porcelain.