In the early 1700s, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, decided that he should be able to manufacture porcelain to compete with the Chinese. He forcibly enlisted an alchemist, Frederich Bottger, to assist him in finding the formula. In 1708, Bottger produced a near-porcelain, using alabaster. In 1710, Augustus established the Royal Saxon Porcelain factory at Meissen, near Dresden, to capitalise on Bottgers discovery. In 1719, Bottger perfected the technique for making porcelain.
The earliest Meissen wares were based on silver forms, decorated in coloured enamels. From the 1720s more baroque forms were developed and Meissen was soon producing wares to rival the best Chinese porcelain.
In about 1730, Augustus built a new Japanese-style palace and, apparently under the mistaken belief that porcelain was sculpted like marble, commissioned the Meissen factory to produce life-size statues of animals such as elephants and rhinoceros to decorate the palace. Of course, no-one had ever attempted to fire porcelain works on this scale and Meissen’s attempts were not a success. However, a sculptor named Joachim Kandler, who came to Meissen to work on the project, realised that small-scale animal figures could be produced. He studied the animals in Augustus’ extensive Royal Menagerie and succeeded in producing lifelike animal figures which have never been equalled. Animal figures inspired by Meissen were produced at Vincennes, Bow, Derby, Staffordshire and elsewhere but most were modelled from engravings and lacked the lifelike quality of their Meissen models. The making of animal figures gradually became a provincial folk art.
The prolific Joachim Kandler also turned his hand to the creation of human figures – particularly fashionable ladies and Italian Comedy (Commedia dell’Arte) figures such as Harlequin, Columbine and Scaramouche. Once again, Kandler’s concept was widely imitated – from the Commedia dell’Arte figures produced at Nymphenburg from about 1775 to the Staffordshire figurines of the Victorian era.
In the late 1750s, Saxony became involved in the Seven Years War and the porcelain factory was closed. It was re-opened after the war but produced only copies of its earliest wares, without the freshness and vigour of the originals.