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porcelain [Ital. porcellana], white, hard, permanent, nonporous pottery having translucence which is resonant when struck. Porcelain was first made by the Chinese to withstand the great heat generated in certain parts of their kilns. The two natural substances used were kaolin, also known as china clay, a white clay free of impurities that melts only at very high temperature, and a feldspar mineral called petuntse that forms a glassy cement, binding the vessel permanently. Although proto-porcelain wares exist dating from the Shang, by the Eastern Han high firing glazed ceramic wares had developed into porcelain, and porcelain manufactured during the T'ang period (618–906) was exported to the Islamic world where it was highly prized. The ware was refined during the Sung period (960–1279). During the Yuan period (1280–1368), blue and white ware was produced by utilizing cobalt blue from the Middle East. The Ming period (1368–1644) developed this blue and white ware but used other colors as well. The Ch'ing period (1644–1912) designed porcelain especially for export often utilizing Western designs. In Europe porcelain was first commercially produced (1710) in Meissen, Germany. Most of the European porcelain is soft paste (made from clay and an artificial compound such as ground glass) and is not as strong as the Chinese hard-paste porcelain. Important European centers for porcelain are Bow, Chelsea, Worcester, Staffordshire, Vienna, Meissen, Sèvres, Limoges, and Rouen.


See G. Savage, Porcelain through the Ages (1955, repr. 1963); F. Litchfield, Pottery and Porcelain (6th ed. 1953, repr. 1967); S. Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a fine ceramic ware. Porcelain is vitrified, impervious to water and gasses, usually white, sonorous, translucent when thin, and nonporous. It possesses high mechanical strength, thermal and chemical stability, and electrical insulating value. It is used to make high-quality tableware, decorative pottery, sanitary-engineering fixtures, corrosion-resistant equipment for chemical engineering, electrical- and radio-engineering parts, and low-frequency electrical insulators. Porcelain is usually obtained by firing a finely dispersed mixture of kaolin, plastic clay, quartz, and feldspar at a high temperature (such porcelain is known as feldspathic). With the development of technology, other types of porcelain appeared, including varieties made with aluminum oxide, zirconium, calcium borate, and lithium.

Hard-paste, or true, porcelain (pâte dure) and soft-paste, or artificial, porcelain (pâte tendre) differ in the composition of the porcelain material, known as the body. Hard-paste porcelain has less flux and more aluminum oxide than soft-paste porcelain and requires a higher firing temperature (up to 1450°C) to obtain the necessary solidity and translucency. Soft-paste porcelain is more varied in chemical composition than hard-paste, and its maximum firing temperature is 1300°C. Soft-paste porcelain includes bone china, which has a composition of up to 50 percent bone ash in addition to quartz, kaolin, and other substances. Bone china is characterized by its great whiteness and translucency. Both hard-and soft-paste porcelain may be produced as glazed or biscuit (unglazed) ware. Hard-paste porcelain is the most commonly used type, both in everyday applications, such as tableware, and in technology, for example, for electrical insulators. Soft-paste porcelain is used primarily for decorative ceramic wares.

(SeeCERAMICS for a discussion of the process of producing porcelain—methods of preparing the body, shaping, and firing techniques.)


Tekhnologiia farforovogo i faiansovogo proizvodstva. Moscow, 1975.


Decorative porcelain.HISTORICAL SURVEY. Porcelain first appeared in China between the fourth and sixth centuries; it was used to produce slender, elongated jars with smooth, polished surfaces of light colors, as well as vases and ewers with sculpted depictions of genre scenes on the lids. Chinese porcelain reached Asia and Europe between the seventh and 13th centuries. The variety of articles included elegant ewers with necks in the shape of birds and animals and vases shaped like classical amphoras with handles in the form of dragons. The workshops of Lungch’üan produced pure white vessels and articles decorated with brightly colored glazes of blue and greenish-grey (celadon) and ornamentation in relief. Other typical pieces included milk white pai Ting vessels from Tingchou with engraved pictures, heavy vessels and bottles from Tz’uchou with highly expressive decorations in brown against a light, milk white background, and blue Ju ware and elegant Chün vessels from Honan Province, painted with a glaze of bright spots of color contrasting with a neutral background.

Beginning in the 14th century, when Chingtechen became the center of porcelain production, the most popular porcelain style featured decorations with lead glazes in three colors (san ts’ai) or with a cobalt blue underglaze. In the 15th century the cobalt underglaze was often combined with overglazed pictures (the style of tou ts’ai, “contrasted colors”). Patterns from silk fabrics were sometimes used in the 16th century as decorative motifs. A refinement of form, a purity and whiteness of body, and elaborate, colorful decoration are characteristic of Chinese porcelain of the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly those ornamented in green and rose enamels and flambé porcelain with a glaze ranging from blue to red. Figurines of gods, mythical personages, and legendary beauties are distinguished by their richness and plasticity of form.

In the late 18th century, the forms of Chinese porcelain became artificial and imitative of works of lacquer, bronze, and stone.

Porcelain production declined in the 19th century. Contemporary Chinese porcelain is usually simple in form, often monochromatic, and covered with traditional colored glazes of greyish green, bluish grey, and red. Many articles and figurines are executed in white biscuit porcelain.

Porcelain ware was known in Korea from the tenth century. Korean styles have included smooth, undecorated porcelain, vessels decorated with pictures of animals and plants, vessels with red ornamentation, vessels with drawings in gold, and distinctive Korean celadons.

In Japan the production of porcelain began in the 16th or 17th century under Chinese and Korean influence. Best known are wares from the city of Arita (known as Imari), with enameled pictures of flowers and birds on a white background; these influenced the ornamentation of 18th-century European porcelain. In contemporary Japanese porcelain, as in ceramics, frequent use is made of spare decoration that contrasts with the form of the vessel, demanding from the craftsman a fine sense of compositional rhythm.

Soft-paste porcelain similar to milk glass in composition was produced in Europe in the late 16th century. Florentine Medici ware featured a light-colored body covered with lead glaze cobalt ornamentation in imitation of oriental models. Circa 1709 a method of producing hard-paste porcelain was discovered in Germany by J. F. Böttger (with the help of E. W. von Tschirnhaus), and in 1710 the first porcelain factory in Europe was established in Meissen. The Meissen factory produced tableware, vases, and sculpture of rich form and elegant ornamentation in the rococo style, as exemplified by the works of the painter J. G. Höroldt and the sculptor J. J. Kändler; later articles were fashioned in the classical style. Other factories were founded in Vienna (1717–18), Berlin, Höchst, Neudeck (removed to Nymphenburg in 1761), Frankenthal, Furstenburg, and Ludwigsburg. Important artists employed at the factories included F. A. Bustelli at Nymphenburg and J. P. Melchior at Höchst; both worked principally in the rococo style.

In France during the 17th and 18th centuries, factories in Rouen, St. Cloud, Mennecy, Chantilly, and Vincennes produced luxurious objects, chiefly molded flowers, of soft-paste porcelain covered with a thin lead glaze, with bright decorations on white borders surrounding colored backgrounds. Hard-paste porcelain was not produced in France until the third quarter of the 18th century. Of special note were biscuit porcelain sculptures produced at the Sèvres factory from designs and models by such artists as E.-M. Falconet and F. Boucher.

The production of porcelain tableware and sculpture in Great Britain began in the mid-18th century. The first articles were of soft-paste porcelain; a later product was bone china—a variety of porcelain made with kaolin and calcined bone and covered with lead glaze and bright decorations, often on a colored background. Bone china was manufactured in Bow, Chelsea, and Worcester.

Both hard- and soft-paste porcelain wares were produced in Italy in the 18th century in Venice, Doccia (near Florence), and Naples. They consisted mainly of tableware with Chinese motifs and grotesques, small sculptures, and panels with decorations in relief, produced for the palaces.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, factories producing hard-and soft-paste porcelain were also established in Denmark (Copenhagen), Sweden (Marieberg), Holland (Weesp and The Hague), Belgium (Tournai), Switzerland (Zürich), and Bohemia (Slavkov and Klášterec). Enameled decorations applied over the glaze in imitation of Chinese models were used by 19th-century manufacturers at Brzozów in Bohemia and Herend in Hungary. Despite technological improvements, the artistic quality of European porcelain declined steadily in the 19th century. Only occasionally was an artistic effect gained from technological achievements, such as the appearance of underglaze decoration in pale matte colors with soft, flowing color transitions, as developed at the Copenhagen factory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the 20th century, mass-production techniques were introduced everywhere: decalcomania, stamping, stenciling, and manual and mechanical transfer printing. The production of porcelain for technological use also increased. There has been a search for expressive modern forms in porcelain wares; contemporary decoration may be described as spare, dynamic, and often distinctly expressive. Some factories produce porcelain wares in imitation of older forms, chiefly those of the 18th century.

Porcelain appeared in Russia in the second half of the 16th century. M. V. Lomonosov and the Moscow ceramicist I. A. Grebenshchikov worked to develop a method of producing porcelain in the 18th century. In 1744 the first porcelain factory in Russia (now the M. V. Lomonosov State Porcelain Factory in Leningrad) was founded in St. Petersburg. There, circa 1747, D. I. Vinogradov discovered a method of producing hard-paste porcelain from local materials. The St. Petersburg factory produced wares of simple but elegant form: vessels, sets of dishes, genre figurines, and snuffboxes with pictures (many executed by the painter A. I. Chernyi) of birds, animals, landscapes, Chinese themes, portraits, coats of arms, and monograms. In the last quarter of the 18th century, the factory employed foreign craftsmen and graduates of the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. They produced sets of dishes, vases, portrait busts, and sculptures (such as the series entitled Peoples of the Russian State, 1780’s), chiefly in the style of early classicism.

In the early 19th century, particularly after the Patriotic War of 1812, the Empire style was applied to porcelain wares decorated with military scenes and portraits of the heroes of 1812 and to sculptures based on models by S. S. Pimenov. The St. Petersburg factory began producing superficially eclectic wares in the 1830’s. Crystalline and colored refractory glazes and underglaze decoration were first applied at the turn of the 20th century, and a limited number of artistically significant works were created under the direction of the technologist N. N. Kachalov, the artist E. E. Lansere, and the sculptor N. Ia. Dan’ko. Mass-produced Russian porcelain was characterized by excessive stylization, a surfeit of cloying, petit bourgeois motifs, and an excessive use of gilt in the ornamentation.

Many private porcelain factories were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries. They included the factory of F. Ia. Gardner (now the Dmitrovskii Porcelain Factory) in the village of Verbilki, Moscow Province, where the forms of the Empire style were combined with a genre treatment of pictorial motifs; the factory of Prince N. B. Iusupov in the village of Arkhangel’skoe, which produced wares in imitation of French models; and the factory of A. M. Miklashevskii in the village of Volokitino, Chernigov Province, which produced vases decorated with molded flowers, statuettes, and even iconostases. A. G. Popov’s plant in the village of Gorbunovo, Moscow Province, produced genre sculptures of a distinctly democratic character. Several large factories had been founded by the mid-19th century, including the Dulevo China Factory, a major factory near the village of Buty, Kharkov District, in the Ukraine, and a factory in Riga, all of which gradually passed into the hands of the capitalist M. S. Kuznetsov. Although the porcelain produced exhibited a body of high quality, the output of the factories was generally superficial in its eclecticism and marked by features of abstract symbolism and excessive stylization.

The Soviet era has seen the organization of porcelain production entirely from native materials for technological, everyday, and decorative use. New Soviet themes have been adapted to decorative porcelain, including wares in the Soviet style known as agitational, as executed by such artists as S. V. Chekhonin and A. V. Shchekatikhina-Pototskaia; they combine new Soviet emblematic motifs and inscriptions with elegant execution and the pictorial style of poster art. Also significant are sculptures by such artists as V. V. Kuznetsov and N. Ia. Dan’ko, which are generalized in form but topical in their social impact.

In the 1930’s the output of mass production increased significantly, chiefly at the Dulevo and Dmitrovskii factories, where art laboratories were organized to introduce into production decorative patterns designed by factory artists, such as the calico motifs of P. V. Leonov and the ornamental Russian folk motifs of E. P. Smirnov. However, early Soviet porcelain, particularly when mass-produced, suffered from the common defects of preoccupation with the techniques of easel painting, lack of an organic unity of decoration and form, and the slow acceptance of new forms.

A search for practical, utilitarian forms was begun in the 1950’s by E. M. Krimmer, N. M. Suetin, and S. E. Iakovleva in Leningrad and T. N. Voskresenskaia in Dulevo. Spare, cleanly executed decorations were used to emphasize the beauty of the material itself. The application of mechanical techniques to decorate mass-produced porcelain also increased, a development that substantially influenced its artistic quality.

By the late 1960’s, new forms had been introduced, and decoration became organically related to form, emphasizing the beauty and nobility of the material used. In addition, there was a movement away from narrowly conceived utilitarian design toward an emphasis of the decorative element and an intensification of the emotional impact of porcelain wares in interior decorating. Prominent proponents of the new trend include V. M. Gorodetskii and P. V. Leonov.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A high-grade ceramic ware characterized by high strength, a white color, very low absorption, good translucency, and a hard glaze. Also known as European porcelain; hard paste porcelain; true porcelain.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A glazed or unglazed vitreous ceramic whiteware used for electrical, chemical, mechanical, structural, or thermal components.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. a more or less translucent ceramic material, the principal ingredients being kaolin and petuntse (hard paste) or other clays, ground glassy substances, soapstone, bone ash, etc.
2. an object made of this or such objects collectively
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005