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Description - The Arcanum by Janet Gleeson

Imprisoned in a fairy-tale castle and under constant threat of execution by his ruthless captor, an 18th century apothecary struggled to realize the alchemist's dream. His name was Johann Frederick Bottger. But instead of transforming base metal into gold, he was to discover the formula for something even more exotic and elusive, a substance so precious it was known as 'white gold'. And it was a formula for which others were prepared to lie, cheat, steal and even kill to possess. This was the remarkable backdrop to one of the most strange and compelling episodes in European cultural and scientific history; a tale of genius and greed, of demonic cruelty and exquisite beauty, of the best and worst of which man is capable - it is the true story of the invention of European porcelain.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780553506921
ISBN-10: 0553506927
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 17mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Bantam Books (Transworld Publishers a division of the Random House Group)
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Jun-1999
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - The Arcanum by Janet Gleeson

UK Kirkus Review » Chinese porcelain was much admired and collected in 17th-century Europe, and the secret of its manufacture was as eagerly sought after as the secret of turning base metal into gold, and often attempted by the same men. King Augustus of Saxony was the keenest of all seekers after the arcanum, or secret recipe; and this book narrates in great detail the involved and often dark events that eventually led to the discovery of the recipe, and the establishment of European porcelain factories, in particular at Meissen. Beauty and worth combined to make porcelain so potent a force that conspiracy, imprisonment, bribery, murder and suicide attended its history. The biography of Johann Friedrich Bottger, the imprisoned alchemist worked to death because of his claim of discovering the formula, is a book in itself, and he is only one of an extraordinary cast of enthusiastic, often misled characters in a story which is eagerly and racily told. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » The often exciting - and always absorbing - story of the European development of the formula for making fine porcelain and the growth of the Meissen works that led the way. The "arcanum" usually refers to the age-old quest for a recipe for turning base metals into gold. Gleeson uses it appropriately here not only because porcelain became known as "white gold" in 18th-century Europe, but also because Johann Frederick Bottger, the alchemist who first created European porcelain, had originally set out to make gold. Having rashly claimed - and "demonstrated" - that he could do so, Bottger was imprisoned in 1701 by the greedy Augustus II, king of Poland and elector of Saxony. Augustus, whose appetite for women and riches was legendary, held Bottger for decades; while his gold-making experiments failed repeatedly, he was given the task of discovering the ancient Chinese secret of making porcelain. Bottger eventually did make fine white porcelain from gray clay, prompting his "ironic testimony" above his laboratory door: "God . . . has made a potter from a gold-maker." Never granted his freedom, Bottger was made head of the king's porcelain factory at Meissen. Gleeson traces the history and development of porcelain artistry from there by following the careers of the mean-spirited Johann Gregor Herold, an artist whose inventive colors and patterns set the standard, and the sculptor Johann Joachim Kaendler, whose fine work in 1730s Dresden would bring about a bitter rivalry with Herold. The sublime results of their competitive work can still be viewed in the museums of Dresden and Meissen. Gleeson does a marvelous job of relating court intrigue, decadence, and chicanery; but her descriptions of 2,200-piece dinner services and the lavish banquets on tables decorated by porcelain finery, including an eight-foot-high model of the Piazza Navona with running rosewater, steal the show. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Janet Gleeson

Janet Gleeson was born in Sri Lanka, where her father was a tea planter. After taking a degree in History of Art and English she joined Sotheby's, and later worked for Bonhams Auctioneers. In 1991 she joined Reed Books, where she was responsible for devising and writing Miller's Antiques and Collectibles. She is the author of the Sunday Times non-fiction bestsellers The Arcanum and The Moneymaker. She is also the author of three novels, The Grenadillo Box, The Serpent in the Garden and The Thief-Taker.

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