The History and Love of Porcelain, A Guarded Treasure China to the UK Via Australia

By Cynthia Cai

Is it easy to picture ourselves on a crowded Silk Road caravan, where vendors proudly display their wares? Porcelain objects that glow in the dark reveal the culture and history of Far-Eastern civilization. For more than 1,500 years, the network of routes known as the Silk Road contributed to the exchange of goods and ideas among diverse cultures. From the second century BCE until the mid-15th century, it played a central role in facilitating economic, cultural, political, and religious interactions between the East and West. Even today items we hold dear in the West were brought to our shores by Chinese tradesmen, including items like Porcelain. Together let us travel back in order to go forward on a fascinating trip through the history of porcelain. To find out more read The History and Love of Porcelain, A Guarded Treasure China to the UK Via Australia here.

Once upon a time, the secrets of porcelain were carefully guarded in the centre of ancient China. The earliest signs of ceramic pottery emerged inside the enigmatic confines of the Shang Dynasty.

The Canvas of the Creation, Porcelain: a material that glowed with elaborate patterns, excellent workmanship, and a riot of colours, was created in the bustling workshops of ancient China. Under the tutelage of its own artists, they found themselves under the tutelage of their own traditions.

But when history moved to the Eastern Han Dynasty about the 1st century CE, a miracle was unfolding before everyone’s eyes. Here, porcelain began to shimmer with an unprecedented whiteness, overwhelming other prosaic ceramics of the age.

Then, coming to the golden age of the Tang Dynasty, here, artisans whispered secrets to clay, making it bloom into ethereal translucency and strength. As they infused life into clay, porcelain reached ethereal heights, captivating distant lands with its allure. This was the dawn of porcelain as we know it; a treasure that would soon beckon admirers from distant shores.

The Yuan dynasty was at the centre of the Chinese porcelain tale since it was during their rule that the world-famous blue and white porcelain was created.

Whispers on the trade winds; and so Porcelain met the world. By the 16th century, rumors about China’s porcelain had spread over Europe on the breezes of trade across oceans. This newfound love of this delicate craft meant Europeans were determined to find a way to duplicate this captivating art form. Soft-paste porcelain, Italy’s first effort at mimicking Chinese ceramics, was created in Florence. In 1710, however, the German Meissen factory showed the world Europe’s true porcelain potential.

The plot, however, does not conclude here. Inspired by China’s skill, Japan exported Arita or Imari porcelain to the rest of the globe in the 17th century. European coasts, too, embraced porcelain enthusiastically, with England and France contributing their distinctive strokes to this ever-evolving canvas.

The Grand Trade Tales: Travelling back in time to the days of the Silk Road and maritime adventures, when porcelain from China became an international phenomenon, it wasn’t only business; it was the beginning of an age when China linked its culture with countries far and wide, forging partnerships that beyond basic transactions.

A Symbol of Splendor: Once upon a time, porcelain had practical purposes in addition to aesthetic ones. It was proof of one’s social standing. Due to its exceptional aesthetic value, it was much sought after by royalty and the upper classes.

Tea Tales Interwoven: Tradition was kept in porcelain teapots in the quiet nooks of Chinese teahouses. These vessels eventually made their way to Japan, where they were used in Zen-inspired rituals, and to England, where they were used for afternoon tea in salons.

In 1994, in a very different part of the earth, while the rest of the world was speeding up manufacturing for mass consumption, Mud Australia turned back time. They went deep into the core of earthenware, embracing its natural beauty, and creating elegant and timeless porcelain homewares. More than mere tableware, their creations created narratives of old customs for the contemporary mind. Each one was unique and had a personal touch that defied the cold uniformity of machinery.

More than just a product, Mud Australia told stories. By combining aesthetics and technique, their creations both recalled porcelain’s illustrious history and looked forward to its bright future. While porcelain’s glossy luster caught the eye, the earthenware shown by Mud had a more natural appeal. They weren’t simply making ceramics; they were resurrecting history, showing us that the ancient narrative of pottery continues to have a passionate heart in the present day.

They have recently announced an innovative porcelain lamp collection. After a one-year design and production period, a lamp collection was made in its signature porcelain

The three lamps have been designed collaboratively by Mud Australia founder and creative director Shelley Simpson and industrial designer Zachary Hanna. All porcelain components are made by hand in Mud Australia’s Marrickville studio and home.

Inviting a collaborator into the design process is a first for Mud Australia in almost 30 years. Until now all of Mud’s pieces have been designed by Shelley and resolved in-house.

Mud’s ambition to continually push the boundaries of how porcelain can be produced ensures the lamps retain a softness in materiality, despite the introduction of more industrial techniques, resulting in three enduring designs that stand out in the current industrial lighting landscape.

First the Pop Lamp. A versatile cordless and portable LED lamp made from a single piece of handmade porcelain. With a soft and dimmable light source, it is suitable for indoor and outdoor use and is available in an initial release of 6 colours –

The second is the Flared Table Lamp. A timeless lamp for intimate spaces, made from three handmade porcelain pieces. The lamp’s light source is cleverly nestled within the base, casting a warm glow. (Available in an initial release of 3 colours – Blossom, Dust and Slate.)

And the final is the Flared Floor Lamp. A multifunctional lamp comprising handmade porcelain and brushed stainless steel. Its intuitive tilt mechanism allows it to be easily pivoted and cantilevered for focused reading or ambient lighting. (Available in an initial release of 3 colours – Blossom, Dust and Slate.)

From exquisite dinnerware that decorated royal feasts to elaborate items that ornamented living areas, from durable tiles under feet in both opulent palaces and modest dwellings, to the insulators that subtly power our contemporary cities. The hands that make them have evolved, and the methods have been perfected, but porcelain’s core qualities, its timeless elegance and beauty, remain constant, bearing witness to its long history.

Drawing from this rich history, Mud Australia, while nurturing the ancient essence, makes strides into the contemporary. Their recent expansion in the UK, marked by the opening of a new retail store in Marylebone Lane, London, reflects their growing global footprint. This new store adds to their growing count, being the tenth of its kind, and the second in London after their inaugural Porchester Place store in 2015.

In a world where change is the only constant, porcelain stands as a beacon of timeless beauty, echoing tales from epochs gone by. It weaves narratives from imperial banquets to the cozy corners of everyday homes. Whether in the form of grand dinner sets, intricate home accents, or resilient floor tiles, its versatility is a marvel. And though techniques evolve, at its heart, porcelain remains untouched by time, a tribute to its rich lineage and unending appeal.

Since the ancient Silk Road and maritime trade routes, it has been fostering cultural exchanges and diplomatic relations between China and other nations. Porcelain has traveled a path of cultural conversations and bridges, from the backstreets of the old Silk Road to the busy streets of London today. It has woven together many countries with ease, creating bonds and enhancing lives. These days, when we look at a porcelain item, we are dealing with a centuries-old narrative as well as an object.

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