Cover image for The arcanum : the extraordinary true story
The arcanum : the extraordinary true story
Gleeson, Janet.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Warner Books, [1998]

Physical Description:
xii, 324 pages ; 20 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
NK4380 .G59 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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An extraordinary episode in cultural & scientific history comes to life in the fascinating story of a genius, greed, & exquisite beauty revealed by the obsessive pursuit of the secret formula for one of the most precious commodities of eighteenth century European royalty-fine porcelain.

Author Notes

Janet Gleeson was born in Sri Lanka and has a degree in both art history and English. She has worked at Sotheby's, as well as at Bonham's Auctioneers, where she headed the Old Master Painting Department. A former art and antiques correspondent for House and Garden and editor for Reed Books, Janet Gleeson has contributed articles to numerous publications, including The Antiques Collector, Country Life, and Apollo.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The birthplace of European porcelain, Dresden and environs attract throngs transfixed by the translucent exquisiteness of that luxury ceramic. So fine a thing must conceal a fine story, which emerges wonderfully in Gleeson's charming account of the (re)invention of porcelain, which the Chinese had made for centuries. The few examples that reached Europe unbroken stoked the lust of Augustus II of Saxony, a roueof Brobdingnagian appetites. His extravagance was so boundless he ordered a porcelain palace to be built (it was not completed), but that's getting ahead of the story. Gleeson's hero is Johann Frederick B\x9a ttger, an alchemist who came to Augustus' avaricious attention in 1701. The gold Augustus wanted never materialized, despite B\x9a ttger's promises, putting him in danger of execution as a fraud. Skillfully dramatizing B\x9a ttger's desperation, Gleeson describes how he instead developed a secret method--the arcanum--for firing and glazing porcelain. Its gold-like generation of wealth pleased Augustus, but surrounding sovereigns were jealous, making the arcanum the prize of subterfuges and Frederick the Great's wars. Pure reading pleasure. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Who would have thought that the story of porcelain would be such a rousing tale of wealth, intrigue and outrageous greed and gluttony? In an all-but-abandoned German mountaintop castle called Albrechtsburg in the town of Meissen, a brilliant 18th-century apothecary and alchemist by the name of Johann Frederick Böttger discovered the secret for making porcelain, which was the next best thing to gold at the time in Europe. Like many other alchemists of his day, Böttger had once untruthfully claimed to have found the secret formula for turning base metals into gold. But for King Augustus of Saxony, who‘smelling fortune‘promptly imprisoned the young scientist, the arcanum for porcelain, or china, would have to suffice. Gleeson's lively account of how Meissen became the West's first porcelain center follows a colorful cast of characters: the lascivious Augustus; two rival decorative artists, Johann Gregor Herod and Johann Joachim Kaendler, who applied their skills as diligently against each other as they did in creating precious porcelain objects; and goldsmith Christo Konrad Hunger, a "hard-bitten profiteer" who would "happily stoop to intimidation, threats, and all manner of chicanery if it would help to fill his purse." Greed‘for money, fame, porcelain or power‘seems to have motivated everyone associated with Meissen, including the author's apparent favorite, "the unfortunate Böttger," whose youthful boasting and actual genius in the laboratory made it all possible. Though somewhat hastily wrapped up, this is delightful historical narrative. Major ad/ promo. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The story of Johann Friedrich Bottger, imprisoned by a greedy king after discovering how to make porcelain. A No. 1 London Times best seller. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
Part 1 The Arcanistp. 1
Chapter 1 The Fugitivep. 3
Chapter 2 Transmutation or Illusionp. 13
Chapter 3 The Royal Captorp. 29
Chapter 4 The China Mysteryp. 39
Chapter 5 Refuge in Despairp. 55
Chapter 6 The Threshold of Discoveryp. 71
Chapter 7 The Flames of Chancep. 89
Chapter 8 White Goldp. 103
Chapter 9 The Price of Freedomp. 117
Part 2 The Rivalsp. 135
Chapter 1 Shadows of Deathp. 137
Chapter 2 The Porcelain Palacep. 157
Chapter 3 Deceptionp. 169
Chapter 4 Crossed Swordsp. 179
Chapter 5 Scandal and Rebirthp. 197
Chapter 6 A Fantasy Universep. 207
Part 3 The Porcelain Warsp. 219
Chapter 1 The Last Journeyp. 221
Chapter 2 The Porcelain Soldiersp. 237
Chapter 3 Visions of Lifep. 255
Chapter 4 The Final Defeatp. 267
Chapter 5 The Arcanump. 281
Postscriptp. 297
Sourcesp. 303
Bibliographyp. 311
Acknowledgmentsp. 317
Indexp. 319