Each Elector of Saxony lived in Albrechtsberg castle, built in the C15th as a late Gothic royal residence. In 1705 Augustus the Very Strong set up a secret laboratory within his castle walls. He imprisoned the alchemist Johann Friedrich Boettger (1682-1719) and others in his castle and probably would have kept them there for life, in order to find the magical formula.
Fortunately for Boettger, he discovered the formula. The first successful experiment took place in 1708 and within two years, the good citizens of Saxony were delighted to see European-created porcelain. Augustus the Strong immediately turned part of his castle into a porcelain factory, with workshops for hundreds of designers and craftsmen. Security against prying (royal) eyes from Vienna and other cities was paramount.
Albrechtsburg Castle and the Meissen Cathedral above the River Elbe
By the end of the C19th, the factory moved out of the Albrechtsburg which was by then looking a bit tatty. So the residential palace was renovated and the space that had been utilised as a porcelain factory was opened as a historical museum to the glories of the Saxon past. City pride expanded and soon after, Meissen’s cathedral was crowned with the skeletal spires in the late Gothic style that now lend such drama to this city. By the 1880s, Meissen was offering a splendid package-deal for tourists.
Albrechtsburg Castle Museum, historical murals
Apparently the exhibition put on at the Albrechtsburg for the 300th anniversary of Meissen porcelain in 2010 was particularly impressive. The exhibition hall presented a fine analysis on three centuries of porcelain manufactured by hand, including the porcelain made for Catherine the Great of Russia and the famous 3.5 m high centrepiece created for the dining table of King Augustus III.
When Joe and I were in Dresden, we found a brilliant 4-hour tour of the medieval city on the banks of the River Elbe. Situated only 25km northeast of Dresden, it is clear that the historic town of Meissen still owes its international reputation to its famous porcelain factory Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Meissen GmbH. Its 1720 logo of two crossed swords, on the bottom of each porcelain object, is one of the oldest trademarks in existence and is still a guarantee of quality across the world.
The crossed swords logo was introduced in 1720 to protect the company’s exclusivity.
We were taken on a walk through the winding and quite steep medieval streets, and very much enjoyed Albrechtsburg castle and adjacent cathedral. It is not a coincidence that Meissen's historical district is located close to the market at the foot of the castle hill.
But the highlight of the excursion for me was going through the showrooms of the Meissen factory. The tour began with a short film on the history of the factory, the raw materials used and the processes adopted. In the following four rooms, the visitors saw how Meissen porcelain was made by hand. Relief-moulded cups were thrown, and parts of figures cast, at the workbenches of a thrower and modeller. The fettler then joined the parts of a figure together. Underglaze painting was demonstrated and the tour concluded with a display of overglaze painting. Floral decorations and painting based on oriental motifs were used to illustrate this multifaceted technique with its extensive nuances of colour.
On leaving Meissen, the tour offered a chance to stop for photos at the magnificent Moritzburg Castle. Nestled among woods and lakes, the former hunting grounds of Augustus the Strong were seen en route back to Dresden. But I don’t remember Moritzburg.
A painted Meissen porcelain circular bowl and cover, mid-C18th, auctioned by Toovey’s.
A useful porcelain reference can be found in Country Life Travel (Winter 2011-2). For fine photos of Meissen's main architecture, see Bird of Prey's nest.