Artificial Porcelain

Artificial Porcelain

Artificial Porcelain

The first European attempts to produce artificial porcelain with the look and feel of Chinese porcelain involved mixing white earthenware clays with so much glass that the products looked and felt more like glass – than clay-made objects.

Given the nature of the first attempts to produce artificial porcelain-like pottery in Europe, it would seem that the model at hand (based on what materials were available) was glass made opaque with tin oxide, such as the later German Milchglas, “milk glass.”

Milchglas itself did not become the European sought-after substitute for Chinese porcelain, probably due to the inherent differences between clay and glass.

The nature of glass made it impossible to shape it using any of the potters’ methods, so a mixture of clay and ground glass was tried.

Artificial porcelain made in this way resembles that of the Chinese only superficially. It is always termed “soft” or “soft-paste” porcelain┬ásince it requires a softer (i.e., lower temperature) firing.

The product was softer (it could be scratched with a knife).The date and place of the first attempt to make soft porcelain are debatable. Still, some Middle Eastern pottery of the 12th century was made from glass and glaze materials mixed with clay and is occasionally translucent.

Much the same formula was employed with some success in Florence in about 1575 at workshops under the patronage of Duke Francesco de Medici.

No further attempts of any kind appear to have been made until the mid-17th century, when Claude and Francois Reverend, Paris importers of Dutch pottery, were granted a monopoly of porcelain manufacture in France.

It is unknown whether they succeeded in making it, but it is known that by the end of the 17th century, “soft porcelain” was being made in quantity by a factory at Saint-Cloud, near Paris.

Another product called “fritted porcelain,” also referred to as artificial porcelain and soft porcelain, was made by pulverizing Chinese porcelain pieces and introducing the powder directly as a frit into “porcelain” clay and glaze recipes (using blends of known earthenware and stoneware clays) in the ongoing attempt by Europeans to emulate the raw materials of Chinese porcelain (before knowing and having the Chinese kaolin-to-feldspar proportions).

Similarly, a ware called “cupel,” made of (usually) bone-ash porcelain crushed and melted and poured into moulds without any further to-do over mixing with crude clay before firing, as would be done with such a composition to be used as a frit (as in the case of the so-called ‘fritted,’ or ‘artificial’ porcelains).

Alla Porcellana

Artificial Porcelain DishAn Italian nomenclature used in English for porcelain-like wares made during a certain portion of the history of porcelain making.

Toward the end of the 15th century, Ming porcelain was revealed to Italian potters. It had as much influence on shapes (which became more delicate, subtle, and varied) as it did on increasing the repertory of ornament.

This was the beginning of the alla porcellana motifs (meaning “in the style of porcelain“) painted in cobalt blue on a white background, echoing the Ming pottery devices of floral motifs in chrysanthemum and peony.

Sprays, tiny leaves, and vines, either trailing or hanging in minute festoons from the border and even framing subjects often connected with the life of those distant lands: junks, pagodas, silkworms, etc.

This family of artificial porcelain wares was in the workshops of Faenza by the end of the 15th century and continued there for several decades, with variations appearing at Caffaggiolo and Montelupo in Tuscany throughout the 16th century.