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28-May-2015 17:58

In “Miller’s Collecting Porcelain,” you can almost hear the renowned porcelain expert John Sandon grumble as he writes, “For this author to admit to liking Dresden figures is rather like a great classical musician confessing to enjoying lift (elevator) music.” That’s how a lot of people feel about porcelain figurines—while they might marvel at their craftsmanship, especially those pieces manufactured in Germany during the 18th century, the admiration is grudging.

That's probably because figurines are such an extreme art form, ranging from sentimental and maudlin kitsch to over-the-top masterpieces of dizzying, even headache-inducing detail.

Naturally, lots of ceramists and potteries tried to capitalize on the success of the Germans.

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To achieve the effect, decorators would dip real pieces of delicate lace into porcelain slip before applying it to the figurine.

When fired, the fabric would combust, leaving a brittle and extremely fragile shell of billowy skirts and blouses behind.

Meissen’s Johann Joachim Kändler, who is often credited with creating the format of the porcelain figurine itself, is the best known of these early artists, producing likenesses of the lecherous Pantalone, the spirited Columbine, and all manner of mischievous harlequins.

While Meissen may have been the place where European porcelain was born, Dresden is where its decoration was perfected and popularized, so much so that today, many people still mistakenly talk about Dresden china when they really mean Meissen.

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Of the many techniques perfected there, Dresden lace is the most sought.

It was used to create the illusion of real fabric on figurines of, say, ladies dancing at a court ball or posing in so-called crinoline groups.