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The Cover
February 11, 1998

Nereid Sweetmeat Stand

JAMA. 1998;279(6):415. doi:10.1001/jama.279.6.415

History is told in more than wars. It is also told in what kings covet. It can be told in something as humble as a lump of clay, as foolish as an alchemist's search for gold, or as grandiloquent as the dinner service of an 18th-century elector of Saxony. But the real story begins centuries earlier and continents removed from the royal residence in the city of Meissen of the Saxon Electorate. It begins sometime in the 7th or 8th century in China on a hill called Kao-ling where the clay was so pure that it burned white when the potters fired it. Together with the abundant raw materials, the skill of the Chinese potters, and the heritage of a long tradition of beauty, a porcelain ware was developed that was like no other. Its formula remained secret for a thousand years. But when the voyages of exploration brought the extraordinary ceramic ware—so thin that the light shone through, so pure that it sounded a musical note when struck—back to Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, kings and queens eagerly sought it, as well as the secret formula for making it. It was in Florence, finally, under the patronage of Francesco Maria de' Medici during the 16th century that a type of porcelain, a "soft-paste," was first produced in Europe. It would be more than another century and a quarter before true, or "hard-paste," porcelain was developed.

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