|The Teacup in a Tempest
|Albrechtsburg Castle sets on the hill high above Meissen on the banks of the Elbe. It is regarded as
the first castle to be used a royal residence in the German speaking world. Built between 1472 and
1525, its origin goes back to the year 929 when Heinrich I created a fortified military camp. In the
Middle Ages, the Wettin dynasties of Albrecht and Ernst, the wealthiest princes in the empire thanks
to the silver mined in the Saxon mountains, became the Margraves of Meissen. At the height of their
powers and while jointly ruling, the brothers built a new stately residence with room for two court
households. It was not given the name Albrechtsburg until 1676.
|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.
|In 1700, a talented 18 year old chemist named Johann Friedrich Böttger was arrested in Wittenberg
and brought to Dresden by order of the King, who hoped to manufacture gold from basic materials.
Imprisoned in Dresden, Böttger was forced to make the King's dream come true. At one point, in
1703, the unlucky Böttger tried to escape to Prague, but was captured and brought back to Dresden
to continue his fruitless experiments. Dresden scientist, Ehrenfried Walter von Tschirnhaus, had
meanwhile been trying to discover the secret of porcelain for at least twenty years with little progress.
Recognizing Böttger's genius, he suggested that he join him in his research, and in 1705, Böttger, still
under guard, began his work with Tschirnhaus. In 1707, a laboratory was established for Böttger,
and a year later he achieved a formula for porcelain.
|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.
|The Quest for Gold
|Who would have known that it would one day become known as the world's most famous china
shop? For about three centuries, porcelain has been manufactured in Meissen. First produced in
China in the eighth or ninth century A.D. and introduced to Europe in 1474, it wasn't until the
beginning of the 18th century that two alchemists in Dresden under the patronage of August der
Starke (Augustus the Strong) uncovered the secret of porcelain by mixing a very white clay called
kaolin with alabaster powder.
|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.
|The Albrechtsburg where Augustus the Strong set up the porcelain factory, eventually suffered
serious damage from its hard use. In 1863, the factory was closed. The castle buildings were
repaired, and between 1875-1885 several murals depicting Saxon history were added. Since 1881,
Albrechtsburg Castle has been open to the public as a museum. Meissen survived the war, but the
occupying Russians afterwards looted the factory thoroughly and took all of the stock which they
didn't manage to break to Moscow. Some of it has been bought back ( or maybe a better term is
ransomed ) at a dear price. Even August the Strong´s table silver and other royal objects were taken
by the Red Army.