Suzanne L. Marchand and Andrew Morrall will be in conversation about her book Porcelain: A History from the Heart of Europe (University of Princeton Press, 2020).


Porcelain was invented in medieval China—but its secret recipe was first reproduced in Europe by an alchemist in the employ of the Saxon king Augustus the Strong. Saxony’s revered Meissen factory could not keep porcelain’s ingredients secret for long, however, and scores of Holy Roman princes quickly founded their own mercantile manufactories, soon to be rivaled by private entrepreneurs, eager to make not art but profits. As porcelain’s uses multiplied and its price plummeted, it lost much of its identity as aristocratic ornament, instead taking on a vast number of banal, yet even more culturally significant, roles. By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it became essential to bourgeois dining, and also acquired new functions in insulator tubes, shell casings, and teeth.

Weaving together the experiences of entrepreneurs and artisans, state bureaucrats and female consumers, chemists and peddlers, Porcelain traces the remarkable story of “white gold” from its origins as a princely luxury item to its fate in Germany’s cataclysmic twentieth century. For three hundred years, porcelain firms have come and gone, but the industry itself, at least until very recently, has endured. After Augustus, porcelain became a quintessentially German commodity, integral to provincial pride, artisanal industrial production, and a familial sense of home.

Telling the story of porcelain’s transformation from coveted luxury to household necessity and flea market staple, Porcelain offers a fascinating alternative history of art, business, taste, and consumption in Central Europe.


Suzanne Marchand is LSU Systems Boyd Professor of European Intellectual History at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. Marchand obtained her BA from UC Berkeley in 1984, and her PhD from the University of Chicago in 1992. She served as assistant and then associate professor at Princeton University before moving to LSU in 1999. She is the author of Down from Olympus: Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 1750-1870 (1996) and German Orientalism in the Age of Empire: Race, Religion, and Scholarship (2009), and most recently has combined cultural and economic history in Porcelain: A History from the Heart of Europe (2020). She is currently working on a history of Herodotus reception since 1700, tentatively titled: History and Lies: Herodotus and the Making of the Modern Humanities.

Andrew Morrall is professor of early modern art and material culture at the Bard Graduate Center, New York. He has written widely on the arts of early modern Northern Europe, art and the Reformation, early modern collecting, craft and Kunstkammer, intersections of art and science, theories of ornament, and the material culture of the early modern home. His publications include: Jörg Breu the Elder: Art, Culture and Belief in Reformation Augsburg (2002); `Twixt Art and Nature’: English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580-1700, co-ed. with Melinda Watt (2008); and Religious Materiality in the Early Modern World, co-ed. with Mary Laven and Suzanna Ivaniç (2019). He is currently working on a study of Northern European craftsmen in the era of the Kunstkammer.


This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 10 am on the day of the event.