Europe’s first hard-paste porcelain manufactory was established at Meissen in 1710, a year after the secret to true Chinese porcelain was discovered. Under Augustus the Strong’s royal patronage, Meissen demonstrated Saxony’s scientific and artistic achievements, producing fine porcelain pieces which were admired by the courts of Europe and regularly presented as diplomatic gifts.
This tea bowl and saucer has been decorated in the Japanese Kakiemon style and features birds flying and resting on branches, with applied sculptural leaf decoration around the base of the teabowl. After the fall of the Chinese Ming dynasty in 1644, Dutch traders began to import Kakiemon porcelain to Europe where it became extremely sought after and led to the imitation of Kakiemon patterns onto white porcelain produced in Europe. This example was painted in the Netherlands and depicts the Japanese Hō-ō bird, a type of auspicious phoenix that appears in peaceful times and hides when there is trouble. It is often depicted in Japanese wares and the dark brown rim is also based on Japanese prototypes.
The base does not feature the Meissen crossed swords mark suggesting that this piece may have been involved in a scheme engineered by a French merchant named Rodolphe Lemaire. To cater to the demand for Japanese styles, Lemaire bought undecorated Meissen porcelain, had it shipped to Holland for decoration and then sold them to wealthy clients as Japanese originals. This deception was exposed in 1731 by which time Meissen was producing their own Japanese inspired designs for sale across Europe.