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Museum Course: Chinese Export Porcelain and its Global Impact

Museum Course
Flynt Center of Early New England Life

Wednesdays in March

The Chinese perfected the skills for making porcelain during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907).  A fired combination of kaolin (china clay) and petuntse (china stone), Chinese porcelain was white, durable, and translucent. Most porcelain in China came from kilns at Jingdezhen, a city in northeastern Jiangxi Province.  Introduced to Europe in the 14th century, Chinese porcelains were regarded as objects of great rarity and luxury.  By the early 16th century when Portugal had developed trade routes to the East, Chinese potters began to produce objects specifically for export to the West. These imports proved a great success. Early expressions of “Chinamania” inspired a trend of using porcelain as a form of interior design. In palaces and homes of the aristocracy and the rising merchant class (made wealthy by trade), rooms lined with displays of porcelain from floor to ceiling became opulent, delightful showplaces. The porcelain room culminated in the porcelain palace with an installation conceived by Augustus the Strong (1670–1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Called the Japanese Palace, the building was designed to hold his prized collection of more than 26,000 Chinese and Japanese porcelains.

As the export trade increased, so did the demand from Europe for familiar, utilitarian forms.  Mugs, tureens, and candlesticks (forms unknown in China) were sent as models to the Chinese potteries for duplication. Chinese enamelers, renowned for their superb copying skills, also recreated decoration brought to them in the form of prints, bookplates, and drawings.   Special orders for personalized porcelains, such as those decorated with coats of arms, went through Chinese intermediaries and often took as long as two years to receive. With the appearance of porcelain factories in Europe in the early 18th century, the demand for Chinese export porcelain began to decline, and by the second half of the century, the trade experienced a serious downturn. Then new markets, such as the United States, revitalized the export porcelain industry in the late 18th century. In addition to bringing home stock patterns decorated in underglaze blue, American merchants in China expedited special orders for private clients back home. By the time Americans arrived in Canton in 1784, an extensive system of decorating workshops operated in the city, fulfilling orders for personalized wares.

Join us for this three-session course that takes an in-depth look at Chinese porcelain exported to the West. Each insightful class will be divided into a lecture and a study session. Participants will have the rare opportunity to see objects from the museum's collection up close. 


Course Schedule

Wednesdays in March

March 13 (7 p.m. – 9 p.m.)
Materials and Manufacturing

Jingdezhen – The Porcelain Capital

Manufacture and Materials of Chinese Porcelain

How was porcelain purchased at Canton (Guangzhou) by Western merchants?


March 20 (7 p.m. – 9 p.m.)
Design and Imitation

China for the West: Sources of Inspiration and Imitation for Chinese Export Porcelain

What’s Chinese about Chinese Export Porcelain?: Understanding Symbols on Chinese Porcelain


March 27 (7 p.m. – 9 p.m.)
Collecting and Trade

Chinese Porcelain around the Globe

Porcelain for Palaces: The Fashion for Chinese Export Porcelain in Europe – with a special focus on Augustus the Strong’s Japanese Palace and the creation of Porcelain Rooms

Porcelain for Parlors: Chinese Export Porcelain for New England  

Amanda Lange is Curatorial Department Director and Curator of Historic Interiors at Historic Deerfield. She has a master’s degree in Early American Culture from the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware. Since 1994, she has overseen the ceramics, glass, and metals collections at the museum. She organized the exhibition, “The Canton Connection: Art and Commerce of the China Trade, 1784–1860” and wrote its accompanying catalogue, Chinese Export Art at Historic Deerfield (2005).


The cost for the course is $100 ($90 for members, $125 for new members*). For more information, contact Julie Orvis at or (413) 775-7179. Register online using the button below. Download a registration form here.

* This registration gives you a new Individual Membership in Friends of Historic Deerfield (a $50 value) that entitles you to free admission to Historic Deerfield, 10% discount at the Deerfield Inn and Museum Store, Historic Deerfield Magazine, the members’ newsletter published twice a year, and invitations to members’ exhibition openings, lectures, and special trips. Special membership offer is not valid for renewals of current or lapsed memberships.


Cancellation Policy: A full refund of the registration fee can be obtained if you cancel before 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6.