Daily Archives: September 15, 2011

Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy on porcelain

“Porcelain is a world of history. From porca, Latin for sow, since it suggested pigskin. The stuff itself’s quite simple – mix the right sort of clay with a fusible feldspathic rock, shape it, bake it in a kiln. The Chinese began it in the eighth century, and perfected it with their usual brilliance in the Middle Ages. China’s original clay is the plasticky kaolin. The rock was called ‘petuntse’ by the French missionaries. This ‘true’ porcelain was the genuine stuff. It came first to Germany’s Meissen, then Vienna about 1720-ish. Nearly fifty years later, the great names of France and England got going, and porcelain was king. We English copied the Chinese porcelain, from the 1740s on, by mixing ‘frit’ – glassy bits fused with lime or plain chalk. This made a ‘soft’ porcelain. There were other ‘soft’ porcelains – Bow and Chelsea and Liverpool – made with calcined bone chucked in. Soft-paste porcelains I always think are merely beginners’ tries. Real porcelain is the hard Chinese type, white, translucent, and lovely. One annoying fad is to speak with bated breath of ‘bone china,’ brought out by Josiah Spode in 1794, but it’s only hard porcelain formula with added bones. Purists regard it with contempt as an in-between.”

— from A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair, by Jonathan Gash, the twenty-first Lovejoy novel

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