Porcelain: A History from the Heart of Europe by Suzanne L Marchand - review by Tim Blanning

Tim Blanning

From Teacups to Toilets

Porcelain: A History from the Heart of Europe

By

Princeton University Press 544pp £30 order from our bookshop
 

Behind the one-word title of a long book dealing with a single commodity there teems a rich variety of phenomena, events, institutions, individuals and values. Just four pages apart are two contrasting photographs. The first shows a one-room proletarian apartment in Berlin in 1913, so evocative of overcrowded squalor that it is often reproduced. The second, taken just a year later in the same city, shows eight middle-class ladies gathered around a large table in an opulently furnished apartment. All the two scenes have in common is the presence of porcelain. Another eloquent pair of illustrations juxtaposes the Klemperer family, pictured with their priceless collection of Meissen porcelain, and Hitler and Himmler enthusing over a collection of Meissen figurines. The latter may well have come from the Klemperers’
collection, which was expropriated on account of the family’s Jewishness.

The Nazis were by no means the first to have enhanced their porcelain collections through criminal means. The fifteen hundred pieces assembled by Elizabeth I for her Jewel House in the Tower of London were seized from the Spanish by the piratical Sir Francis Drake. Frederick the Great of Prussia

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