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EVELYN DE VERITCH !
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A Short History of China Painting
The art of china painting, referenced in many works as porcelain art or china decoration, has its roots in the history of early China. It is documented that cave dwellers in Turkey as early as 7000 BC began making bowls, jugs, and utensils out of clay. Egyptians built ovens to harden their clay pieces in 5000 BC. However, over glazing was not discovered until around 3000 BC and decoration of the clayware came much later. It wasn’t until the T’ang Dynasty in 618 AD that the Chinese began making what is known today as hard porcelain. They discovered that combinations of kaoline clay and felspar resulted in the most beautiful ceramics. This porcelain ware is distinguished from other ceramics by possessing excellent qualities of hardness, translucency, and whiteness of body or paste. Any ceramic piece that possesses all of these qualities may be classified as porcelain, and, from a practical point of view, the more it excels under these characteristics, the better the specimen of porcelain it is. The Chinese, being supreme secret keepers, remained the masters and sole producers of hard-bodied porcelain until the middle of the 1700s.
While the Chinese were excellent at keeping a secret, Marco Polo was a wonderful story teller and his “Adventures of Marco Polo” suggest that he was the first one to bring back an example of the Chinese hard paste porcelain in the shape of a small white vase on his return to Italy in 1295. But it wasn’t until trade with the Far East had really been established at the beginning of the 15th century that the white translucent ceramic was considered a valuable and luxurious material by the nobility and wealthy patrons from France, Italy, Venice and Portugal. Of course the secret of its manufacture made the porcelain even more desirable.
While variations of porcelain were produced in the late 1500’s it wasn’t until 1710 that a porcelain comparable to the Chinese hard bodied paste was developed. Augustus II, King of Poland literally locked his alchemist Johann Bottger away and under threat of death he did come up with the formula for the ceramic. The King founded the Meissen Factory in 1710 and for almost ten years the formula for this porcelain remained a closely guarded secret. However, the appetite and desire for this porcelain by the wealthy and royalty fanned the flames of multiple kilns in other countries and eventually, France and Germany also discovered the formula.
Porcelain vessels included vases, figurines, plates, bowls, snuff boxes, jewelry boxes, small and large jugs, tea caddies, teapots, tables, cups and saucers. Augustus II actually wanted to have an all porcelain castle. The decoration of the porcelain became almost as important as the item itself and each factory had a staff of artists who painted first in the style of the Chinese, monochromatically, one color scenes or flowers, fish or birds, and then specific to the actual factory. The French artists painted portraits and scenes on miniature boxes and cups, the Italians painted figurines, flowers and landscapes, animals and battle scenes, fruit and village scenes. Porcelain sculpture became important. In the latter part of the 18th century, porcelain production became so expensive that all porcelain production was destined either for the Court or visiting royalty or nobility. But of course, porcelain production was interrupted by various revolutions and invasions. Factories were looted and destroyed and had to be rebuilt. While porcelain remained desirable among the wealthy, costs of wars and rebuilding put a crimp in its production.