Burghley House investigations reveal how first European porcelain was English

By Culture24 Staff | 18 February 2010
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A photo of a trio of classic white porcelain jars

Porcelain pottery could have been made in Vauxhall decades before experts first thought after scientists used state-of-the-art technology to re-examine two tiny jars at Burghley House in Lincolnshire.

Experts from the British Museum found a hard-paste porcelain in the make-up of the Buckingham China pair (above) at the grandiose Stamford mansion, pre-dating the earliest known production in Germany by at least 25 years.

Recorded at the House since 1683, they were thought to have been made of glass in attempts by European craftsmen to impersonate Oriental porcelain.

The development casts doubt over the claim of Johann Friedrich Böttger, an alchemist who was imprisoned by King Augustus for failing to deliver on a promise to turn metal into gold, to be the creator of Europe’s first porcelain.

Officials at the House said the discovery was as hypothetically revelatory as hearing the American moon landing had been eclipsed by Russian astronauts several years beforehand.

A photo of the outside of a towering mansion on a grass lawn against a blue sky

The pair of jars will go on display as part of a special exhibition at the Lincolnshire stately home in March. © Anthony Masi

Böttger's eventual discovery of porcelain was instrumental to the immense success of the Saxon economy.

Research into the artefacts began in 1991, when inconclusive research left Sotheby investigator Gordon Lang unable to prove his claim that they were made of porcelain. A dissertation on the pieces by an American student reopened interest in the delicate duo in 2007.

English Ceramic Circle published an in-depth report on them last year, and former ECC President John Mallet said the truth behind the treasures remained "complex".

"The question of invention depends to a large extent on the definition of terms such as soft-paste, hard-paste and porcelain itself," he wrote in a letter to The Times.

"It is by no means certain that the second Duke of Buckingham was the maker of the vases at Burghley and elsewhere, nor, if he was, that the vases were made at his glassworks at Vauxhall, although the argument for their production in England is quite strong."

The China will go on display in a special Art in Miniature exhibition starting at the House on March 20 2010.

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