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‘Other things in the world are white but for me porcelain comes first’
A handful of clay from a Chinese hillside carries a promise: that mixed with the right materials, it might survive the fire of the kiln, and fuse into porcelain – translucent, luminous, white.
Acclaimed writer and potter Edmund de Waal sets out on a quest - a journey that begins in the dusty city of Jingdezhen in China and travels on to Venice, Versailles, Dublin, Dresden, the Appalachian Mountains of South Carolina and the hills of Cornwall to tell the history of porcelain. Along the way, he meets the witnesses to its creation; those who were inspired, made rich or heartsick by it, and the many whose livelihoods, minds and bodies were broken by this obsession. It spans a thousand years and reaches into some of the most tragic moments of recent times.
In these intimate and compelling encounters with the people and landscapes who made porcelain, Edmund de Waal enriches his understanding of this rare material, the ‘white gold’ he has worked with for decades.
Artist de Waal (The Hare with Amber Eyes), a potter by trade, blends art history and personal travelogue in this immersive hands-on study of porcelain and its commercial and artistic appeal over the centuries. Beginning in Jingdezhen, China, where porcelain was first fired 1,000 years ago, de Waal gradually works his way west to 18th-century Europe specifically the German city of Dresden, and Plymouth on the South Coast of England and eventually to Ayoree Mountain in what is now North Carolina. He enlivens his account with portraits of the people whose quirky personalities and entrepreneurial zeal advanced the manufacture of porcelain across Europe, among them mathematician Ehrenfried von Tschirnhaus, who partnered with alchemist Johann Friedrich B ttger to develop "a porcelain body for a pure white clay through which light can pass." De Waal punctuates his chronicle with descriptions of his own work in the medium and poetic reflections on the art form: for example, he describes the cobalt used in designs on porcelain pots as a pigment "that allows the world to be turned into stories," and the quest for a porcelain "so white and true and perfect, that the world around it is thrown into shadows." The book transforms an otherwise esoteric subject into a truly remarkable story.