Merchants first brought Chinese porcelain to Europe overland. And
travelers told stories of how it was made. So Marco Polo wrote:
[In the city of Tin-gui …] cups or bowls and dishes
of porcelain-ware are manufactured. The process was explained to be
as follows. They collect a certain kind of earth, as it were, from a
mine, and laying it in a great heap, suffer it to be exposed to the
wind, the rain, and the sun, for thirty or forty years, during which
time it is never disturbed. By this it becomes refined and fit for
being wrought into the vessels above mentioned. Such colours as may
be thought proper are then laid on, and the ware is afterwards baked
in ovens or furnaces.
The manufacture of ceramics was well developed in medieval and
Renaissance Europe. Yet all attempts to replicate porcelain failed,
leaving a legacy of ceramics that imitated the whiteness (or
celadon-like coloration), or the hardness, or the translucency of
true porcelain. But never all qualities together.
Seventeenth-century merchants fanned the ardor for porcelain through
the East India trade that brought Asian wares to Europe. As a
result, if one could wait three years, one could have any pattern
made in fine porcelain. I have seen a Swedish plate in which the
European designer's words of instruction were faithfully replicated
in classic, cobalt-blue underglaze—the potters in China had
treated the instructions as the pattern.
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