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Eighteenth-Century European Ceramics: A Social and Cultural History

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The 18th century was the great age of European ceramics. Early in the century, the discovery of “true” porcelain at Meissen, rivaling the quality of Chinese and Japanese imports, led to a race for technical excellence and commercial superiority among the countries of Europe, which gave impetus to an extraordinary flourishing of the ceramic medium, and with it, a new position of cultural centrality. The course examines this phenomenon, focusing on the artistry of Meissen production within the culture of the Saxon Court; the distinctive forms of Sèvres, created for the most lavish court culture of the ancien régime; and the development of the ceramic industry in England, where factories such as Derby and Wedgwood, lacking royal or princely patronage, were forced to develop along more purely commercial lines. Firsthand examination of the styles and types of the main European factories provides a thorough connoisseurial grasp of the subject. In addition, emphasis is placed on questions of the design, marketing, and consumption of ceramics, in order to show how the developments in porcelain and earthenware constituted part of a wider material culture, which reinforced 18th-century concepts of “taste,” “beauty,” and “civilization” and affected the social practices and aesthetic imagination of 18th-century society. 3 credits.