In 1707/08, white, delicate, European hard paste porcelain was born. The earliest Meissen used Oriental styling, but soon produced European court scenes, satirical pieces and other elaborate designs. The fame of its most recognizable crossed swords mark, used as early as 1728, spread with its reputation for fine workmanship and artistic beauty. The Meissen Royal Manufactory in Saxony has weathered Europe’s most calamitous wars, economic depressions and various governments. Since the 18th century, the factory has had its own education and training facility to assure succession in the craft, including very special techniques.
Augustus II the Strong, 1670-1733, reigned from 1697 to 1733, an ambitious absolutist who loved beauty and culture. Although he had German roots as the son of Johann George of Saxony, he was elected King of Poland in 1697, having converted to Catholicism to better his chances.
He had the dual role of Elector of Saxony from 1694. He allied himself with Czar Peter and this pulled Poland into the Northern War. As a result, Sweden once again attacked Poland, deposing Augustus who abdicated after Swedish armies entered Saxony. Ultimately, Czar Peter defeated the Swedes and Augustus regained the crown. He was called “the Strong” for his brute physical strength (which he demonstrated by breaking iron horseshoes with his hands) and for his numerous offspring. He is alleged by some to have sired 365 or 382 children, with only one of them a legitimate heir.
Soon, production began in the Dresden laboratories, and the first pieces went on sale at the Leipzig Fair in 1710. The first wares were red and are known as Böttger stoneware.
Augustus was already building a porcelain factory in Meissen and the industry was transferred there in June of that year. Since the old Albrechtsburg castle was impractical for living in due to political circumstances and living conditions, August had the first porcelain factory set up there. The factory occupied all of the castle’s rooms. By 1713, Meissen was producing the desired white porcelain, and colored wares were soon developed, run by Böttger from his guarded confinement in Dresden. The King finally released Böttger, who was still young, in 1714, but he died young only 5 years later, perhaps a result of years of breathing deadly fumes in the laboratory.
Two other figures are equally as important in the early history of Meissen: color chemist and painter Johann Gregorius Höroldt, 1696-1775, and sculptor Johann Joachim Kaendler, 1706-1775. Höroldt developed the rich colors and adapted the motifs of Asian porcelain to European tastes, and Kaendler created many of Meissen’s best-known shapes and figurines.