The Foundation of the Factory under Empress
hundred years ago no one in Europe had any idea of the materials
and techniques used in making porcelain. The secrets of porcelain
production were kept so guarded by the Chinese that many magical
qualities were ascribed to this mysterious material. Among
other ideas, it was believed that porcelain dishes would change
color if poisoned food or drink was placed in them. This supposed
property was one of the important reasons that prompted European
monarchs, including the Russian tsars, to use Chinese porcelain
The market value of this rare and precious china was equal
to gold and it was frequently called "white gold".
Gifts of porcelain were presented to crowned heads; it was
used to decorate state rooms; rulers bartered their subjects
for it; food was served on china dishes on special ceremonial
occasions; grand ladies even wore shards of china on little
gold chains as a particularly refined and expensive form of
It was not until the early 18th century that the alchemist
Johann Friedrich Bottger, who had long searched for the "philosopher's
stone", discovered a way to produce "European"
hard paste porcelain with the help of the physicist and mathematician
Count Ehrenfried Walter Graf von Tschirnhaus. Thus, the first
European porcelain was manufactured in securely guarded secrecy
at Albrecht Castle in Meissen. China production started in
Vienna some years later.
These developments did not escape the notice of Russian Tsar
Peter the Great whose reforms were aimed at Europeanizing
Russia. He was obliged to import porcelain and stoneware from
abroad for daily use and for decoration of the imperial apartments.
His wife, the future Empress Catherine I, had a great liking
for porcelain. The entire Russian aristocracy followed the
example of the imperial couple. During his frequent visits
to European countries, Peter I pursued his interest in the
secrets of porcelain manufacture and he attempted to introduce
it to Russia with the help of foreigners. But all his efforts
to establish porcelain production at his own court were in
European term "porcelain" is derived from the Italian
"porcelino" - so called because the pieces of china
brought back from the Orient by Marco Polo had the pale pink
color of young piglets. Other sources, however, ascribe the
origin of the term to the sea crab "porcella" with
its delicate pink hue. Initially the term "porzelin"
was used in Russia, but from the middle of the 18th century
there came into use the word "farfor", which comes
from the Turkish and Persian title for the Chinese emperor
Peter I's desire to establish his own porcelain production
was finally realized two decades later by his daughter, who
was then Empress Elizabeth (1741-1761).
"A clever and kind, yet at the same time a superficial
and capricious Russian noblewoman", according to the
historian Klyutchevski, Empress Elizabeth combined in her
person "the new European ambitions" with the "orthodox,
traditional Russian way of life". Born to the sound of
cheerful music on the day of the tsar's return from the battle
of Poltava, she adored gaiety, song and dance in her youth,
while in her more mature years; she came to prefer the pleasures
of the table. Yet for all this she always had the interests
of her Russia at heart.