The history of porcelain
In the late seventeenth century, thin, fine-bodied porcelain from China and Japan exerted a special fascination over collectors and nobility alike. In 1708 the Dresden alchemist Johann Friedrich Boettger succeeded in unlocking the secrets of the recipe for porcelain, and two years later the Meissen porcelain manufactory was established.
In Vienna Emperor Charles VI granted an imperial privilege to Claudius Innocentius du Paquier on 27 May 1718, giving him the exclusive right to manufacture porcelain. Du Paquier established his manufactory in the suburb of Rossau, near the Liechtenstein Garden Palace.
The characteristic feature of the early phase of production at this manufactory is the polychrome painting with figurative or floral chinoiserie motifs. The nuanced palette and the combination of iron-red and puce tones led to the manufacture of magnificent objects by 1725.
At first these exclusive objects were placed as decoration on mantelpieces and in display cabinets. However, soon jugs and cups made of porcelain became items of daily use, as nothing was considered so suitable for enjoying the new fashionable drinks of coffee and chocolate as fine porcelain, usually with painted decoration.
Besides the porcelain painters who worked in the manufactory there were also so-called Hausmaler or independent artists who had their own studios where they painted glass and white porcelain.
Around 1770 the Vienna manufactory under its then director Ferdinand von Kestler looked towards France for inspiration. The new repertoire embraced innovative shapes and colours, with gilding forming a substantial part of the decoration. For a time the manufactory suffered from financial problems, but after the appointment of Conrad von Sorgenthal as director in 1784 its fortunes revived.
Under Sorgenthal’s guidance Anton Grassi, the master modeller of the Vienna manufactory, developed a new stylistic vocabulary of pared-down forms, starting from the shape of the gobelet litron made by the Sèvres porcelain manufactory, which was a straight-sided cylindrical cup and broad-rimmed saucer. This shape reflected the aesthetic ideal of the Enlightenment and became the epitome of Classicistic Viennese porcelain. The plain shape also provided the best surface for all-over decoration. The thematic spectrum ranged from colourful ornamental motifs to portraits, detailed vedutas and foreign landscapes. The academically trained porcelain painters also made copies of famous paintings.
The depiction of native and foreign flora and fauna developed into a genre in its own right. However, despite the variety of subjects, these porcelain objects share one thing in common: delicate gold relief work that lends them their extraordinarily precious appearance. These exclusive objects were of course not meant for practical use. As souvenirs or collectors’ pieces they embellished the drawing rooms of wealthy, mostly Austrian, connoisseurs.
New reproduction techniques and cheaper products from rival Bohemian manufactories eventually led to the closure of this Viennese institution on 22 August 1864. The Augarten Porcelain Manufactory, established in 1923, continues the tradition of Viennese porcelain manufacturing, and among other ranges also produces copies of its august predecessor’s designs.
Photo: Porcelain service - Royal Porcelain Manufactory Berlin
© LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vaduz–Vienna