From its first introduction by travelers returning from the East, Chinese porcelain was regarded by Europeans as a precious and highly desirable commodity. With the development of trade with the orient in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, oriental porcelain, particularly from China, became readily available to both the British and continental markets as a luxury item. Nevertheless, Europeans sought the secret in order to make their own true hard paste porcelain. There had been some success in Italy as early as the late sixteenth century, and in France a hundred years later, in developing an artificial or soft paste porcelain body in which ground glass and white clays were used as a substitute for kaolin, or China clay, which had not yet been discovered in Europe. It remained for a German alchemist, Johann Friedrich Bottger, working at Meissen for Augustus the Strong, to discover the formula for making true hard paste porcelain in about 1708.
Augustus the Strong had a great passion for oriental porcelain and was more than willing to establish and to support financially his own porcelain factory at Meissen, which began production in 1710. The broad range of shapes, decoration, and ground colors had all been perfected during the first forty years of the factory's existence. It was not until the 1750's that the supremacy of Meissen was challenged, and finally overshadowed, by the French royal factory at Sevres
The sugar bowl and cover shown here was made at Meissen in about 1740. The even, lustrous yellow ground provides a brilliant foil for the gold bordered reserves, which are carefully and finely painted with delicate, detailed polychrome landscapes with figures in the foreground. On the base of the bowl is the characteristic underglaze blue crossed sword mark. The delicate gold twig handle punctuated with colorful porcelain flowers survives in a near-miraculous state of preservation, testimony to the high regard in which the products of this famous German factory have always been held.
For related examples, see Rainer Ruckert: Meissener Porzellan 1710-1810. Munich, 1966. Numbers 376, 414, and 442.