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An exhibition of European porcelain May 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Cyprus, Arts Museums.

The history of Meissen porcelain comes to life in an exhibition currently on in Nicosia’s Leventis Museum

Ask anyone around you about the history of cups and saucers and they’re more than likely to stare back at you rather dumbstruck. Most will say “who cares?” Others may find it rather odd that you’ve suddenly developed such an interest in crockery. But in some cultures of the world they’d be very insulted if someone were to underestimate the importance of fine porcelain.

In the highly stylised Japanese tea ceremony, related to Zen Buddhism, each utensil including tea bowl, whisk and tea scoop is ritually placed in front of guests in a precise order and arrangement. After all the guests have drunk their tea, an event that could last for hours, the host will allow them to examine and admire each utensil. Treated with extreme care and reverence, they are often only allowed to touch them only with a special brocaded cloth.

We all know that the ‘proper’ way to drink tea in Britain is not just to use any old mug, but fine bone china, and traditionally, afternoon tea is associated with a great amount of etiquette. Using a good quality teapot and the proper cups is said to completely change the experience of enjoying that good old cuppa. You may not care who invented porcelain but decades ago there were individuals who spent day and night to produce just the right kind of material to provide the perfect dining pleasure.

Porcelain was first made in China and some claim that Tao Yue (c.608-c.676 AD) was the legendary inventor of the material. He used so called white clay (kaolin), found along the Yangzte river where he was born. He then added other types of clay to produce the first white porcelain, which he sold as ‘artificial jade’ in the capital of Chang-an. By the Sung Dynasty (c.960-c.1279 AD), porcelain had reached the height of its artistry.

The European courts had been importing porcelain from China since the early 13th century at exorbitant prices. Because of its high price, it came to be viewed as a great measure of esteem and class. In England, the word ‘china’ became a commonly used synonym for the Franco-Italian term ‘porcelain’. During the 18th century, Augustus the Strong, elector of Saxony and King of Poland, sent out orders that investigations were to be conducted to finally discover the secret of porcelain production.

Quite by chance, it was a chemist named Johann Friedrich Böttger in the town of Meissen who discovered the winning formula. Ironically, it was his claim that he knew the secret of transmuting dross into gold that captured Augustus’ attention and so decided to imprison him to hasten research. Instead, in 1709, he discovered the right chemical procedure to produce hard porcelain. This marked the birth of Meissen porcelain, as a factory was immediately set up in 1710.

From that point onwards, this particular hand-painted porcelain became distinguished around the world and associated with the trademark blue crossed swords painted by hand on each piece as a sign of authenticity. In fact, the production procedure has hardly changed since the day the factory was first established, with apprentices having to first study nature in detail and paint flowers and fruit to perfection before they can touch Meissen porcelain with their brushes. Tradition has it that you need 10 year’s practice to master the old designs.

Within the framework of the German European Union presidency and in cooperation with the Goethe Zentrum and Embassy of Germany, you now have the chance to go along to a Meissen porcelain exhibition at the Leventis Museum in Nicosia. The exhibition illustrates the procedure of porcelain production and showcases creations from the 18th to 21st centuries, with about 200 pieces on show.

In the first part, you will be introduced to the process of creating porcelain from clay, then shaping the individual parts of the object piece by piece and finally putting them together to give shape to items such as teapots or bowls with manifold decorations.

As you continue to browse through the exhibit, you’ll be able to set your sights on historic porcelain alongside contemporary creations. One of the most famous of all Meissen designs commonly known as the ‘blue onion’ dates back 250 years, while the common swan design stems from Greek mythology as Zeus, father to the gods and mankind, assumed the form of a swan as a way of getting close to Leda, the lovely spouse of the Spartan king Tyndareos.

Special guided tours and pedagogical programmes are also available within the framework of the current exhibit to give both adults and children the opportunity to learn more about the history of porcelain. You might be surprised at how much there is to find out about the little things we habitually use in everyday life.

Meissen > An exhibition of the first European porcelain. Until July 1. Leventis Museum, 17 Ippokratous Street, Nicosia. 10am-4pm daily except Mondays. Tel: 22 661475.

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