Finding Perfection in the Alchemy of Porcelain
Lladró is renowned the world over for its sublime porcelain creations. For more than half a century, its distinctive trademark has been a symbol of quality, creativity, and elegance. Designers in countries around the globe were delighted when this exceptional Spanish brand brought its unique understanding of the smooth, supple, luxurious material upon which it has built an international reputation to the world of designer lighting in 2013.
Through an alchemical mixture of work, skill, passion, and–above all–humanity, Lladró has built itself into an icon of expressive creation. They routinely transform porcelain, itself a deceptively simple material, into soulful expressions of emotional truth, such as Marcel Wanders’ Nightbloom collection. That this titan of collectible design began as three art student brothers and a home kiln on the family farm only makes Lladró’s journey more remarkable, and it is that journey that we wish to celebrate here.
Nightbloom wall sconce by Marcel Wanders makes sublime use of Lladró’s signature porcelain.
Rosa Dolz Cortina was a tenacious woman. Encouraging the artistic aptitude she saw in her sons Juan, José, and Vincente–to the point where all three were educated at the Valencia School of Arts & Crafts–was risky. The family business was a farm in Almacera, a small community outside of Valencia, run by her husband, Juan Lladró Cortina. It was a stable and relatively safe living in Francoist Spain, where the first real steps toward freedom from repression in art and science were still years away. Nonetheless, Rosa pushed for her sons to follow their passions: painting for Juan and José, while Vincente showed remarkable skill at sculpture. The world owes Rosa a debt of gratitude.
The Lladró Brothers, circa 1960
As students, the three Lladró brothers built a kiln at their parents’ home and began to produce a variety of porcelain figures, which they sold at local markets. Obtaining a loan from a friend, they built a higher-quality kiln, which they needed to reach the temperatures necessary to produce truly fine porcelain, and began to produce porcelain wares that rivalled those of established brands, leading to the creation of the Lladró company in 1953.
The Lladró workshop
Success enabled relocation to the nearby town of Tavernes Blanques in 1958, where Lladró remains headquartered to this day. Through the ensuing years, the Lladró brothers and their growing staff continued to innovate in materials, techniques, and artistic expression, leading entirely new processes in porcelain production, a celebrated catalogue of tableware and collectibles sought by devotees all throughout the world, and a selection of at least thirty-two porcelain formulations, all kept safely secret, and each suited to particular applications.
Porcelain: A Short History of Perfection
Developed in China through the course of two thousand years, porcelain trickled into Europe for centuries, and finally began major imports along the Silk Road during the Ming Dynasty (CE 1368-1644). Its European name was granted by Italians, who saw the shells of porcellana crustaceans echoed in the ceramic material. At the same time, porcelain’s Chinese origins caused it to gain the popular name “china” among English-speakers.
Luxurious, refined, and uniquely expressive, porcelain is brought to its full potential through the labour of Lladró artisans.
Porcelain was especially prized because of its contrasting delicacy and strength, its impermeability, its soft white colour, and its translucence. Formulae for porcelain are varied, but the finest porcelains all have one ingredient in common: kaolin, a clay that, blended with other substances, vitrifies in a unique way under extreme heat. From the first moment that samples of porcelain arrived in Europe, Europeans began attempting to discover its secrets. Its rarity and almost mystical character led to porcelain being referred to as “white gold,” which serves as the material’s first crossover point with alchemy.
Alchemy was an intersection of religion, philosophy, and reason for logical minds in a pre-scientific world. It applied the precepts of “natural philosophy” (pre-science science) to philosophical and religious principles regarding purification of the soul and transcendence to higher states of being.
Winter Palace chandelier is a sumptuous, opulent statement piece in halls, stairways, and foyers.
The ultimate goal of alchemists was the pursuit of perfection in body, mind, spirit, and soul–the magnum opus, or “great work”–and was symbolized by gold, which they believed to be the apotheosis of physical and spiritual matter. Many historical alchemists devoted themselves to one magnum opus or another, ever-seeking new forms of material and spiritual perfection. Arguably the most famous of these ‘great works’ is the immortality-granting Philosopher’s Stone, recently of Harry Potter fame, about which legends have been told since the 17th century.
The Alchemy of White Gold
It’s no coincidence that the man (undeservedly) credited with finally cracking the formula of porcelain in Europe was an alchemist. Johann Friedrich Böttger was a fraud who rather unwisely claimed to have transmuted base metals into gold. Failing to reproduce this feat at the request of Augustus II, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, he was imprisoned to focus his mind on the task and incentivize its fulfillment.
Left: A moody use of the Firefly family’s portable table lamps. Right: The fun and dynamic presence of Mademoiselle
cluster suspension light doesn’t preclude it from adding a dramatic character to lounges and restaurants.
As he worked, a true artisan and proto-scientist, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, was also working for Augustus II trying to discern the secrets of white gold. Böttiger was reassigned to assist Tschirnhaus’ project shortly before the discovery of a Saxon source of kaolin, which led to Tschirnhaus and his team finally achieving their goal in 1708. Tschirnhaus died shortly after uncovering the mystery of porcelain and Böttiger, ever the opportunist, seized the opportunity to announce the discovery himself, cementing himself a place in history.
Tschirnhaus’ discovery was the culmination of centuries of work all over Europe. Porcelain was more than just a rare and mysterious substance; it became a metaphor, much like alchemical gold, for the very concept of perfection and refinement. This inherent ethereal quality remains a key element of porcelain’s character and, in addition to the mastery that they are known for, is a primary ingredient in Lladró’s success.
The Power of Lladró’s Trademark
Lladró is clearly aware of the alchemical influences in the history of porcelain. They, like all porcelain producers, signify the authenticity and excellence of their creations with a trademark. This trademark has gone through changes over the years, with the current version being a simplification of the one adopted in 1971:
Lladró’s trademark as it appeared from 1971-1974 (left), when the bellflower
sigil was first added, and today (right), a design used since 1990.
The Lladró trademark includes a sigil comprised of two parts: the upper one is a stylized bellflower, which symbolizes life, affection, everlasting love, humility, and delicacy. Below this is what appears to be a stem with two leaves. This stem is, in fact, the alchemical symbol for sulphur inverted. In alchemy, sulphur is a symbol of heat and dryness, as well as the human soul. The symbolism is clear: out of heat and humanity come life and love, and that is what you find in both Lladró and their porcelain.
The Firefly collection enjoys several distinctly fun and quirky portable table lamps
Lladró’s trademark is more than just a trademark. It is a promise they make with every porcelain figurine, light, or other masterpiece they produce: a promise of authenticity, integrity, and quality. Indeed, when one of their collectible figurines is finished but found to be lacking in quality, they either destroy it or, if it is sufficiently excellent despite its flaw, they remove the bellflower sigil from the trademark and sell it as a “second.” Seconds are Lladró figures that, despite being so perfect that most people outside of Lladró cannot see any flaw, fail to meet Lladró’s exacting standards.
An added advantage of Lladró selling its near-but-not-quite perfect seconds is that it allows porcelain enthusiasts of more limited means to purchase the Lladró designs they love for lower prices, since seconds have little value on the collector’s market. By defending their commitment to quality through this simple yet effective method, Lladró also shows kindness to their most appreciative fans.
The Family table lamp (left) evokes the cool, classic work of Renaissance sculptors, while the Niagara
with Gold Lustre family of chandeliers (right) are explosions of warm, fantastic exuberance (contact LightForm to order)
Bringing Lladró Excellence to Designer Lighting
Belle de Nuit 12 chandelier and Belle de Nuit floor light combine elegance and vibrancy to create uniquely beautiful profiles
Sixty years after the company was first founded, Lladró chose to expand its offering further by bringing its uniquely vivacious and expressive porcelain creations to the world of contemporary lighting fixtures. The Belle de Nuit collection, named for the night-blooming mirabilis jalapa flower that inspired the porcelain pendalogues hanging from its frames, was Lladró’s bold first step in this new venture.
Bright and vivacious or boldly dramatic, Belle de Nuit is a confident statement piece
Belle de Nuit began with a reinterpretation of the classic shape of crystal-based French chandeliers using luxurious porcelain. To these sumptuous, classic shapes Lladró added an exhaustive selection of available colour palettes, ranging from coolly reserved dignity to joyously exuberant fun, to serve every possible taste and setting challenge posed by interior designers.
Fun and frivolous colours contrast with the way texture and light draw out the
serene warmth of porcelain in Mademoiselle cluster suspension light.
This combination of porcelain, light, and a floral motif as a celebration of theme and material is continued in porcelain lighting fixtures such as the Ivy and Seed family of lights, Mademoiselle cluster suspension light, Naturofantastic pendants, and the Jamz collection. Each one is a distinct yet definably Lladró expression of vivaciousness and joy, capturing both whimsy and elegance in porcelain.
Lladró’s line of table lamps combine the company’s cherished legacy of sculptural figurines with their divine lighting design sensibility. Lights like the breathtaking Mirage table lamp make exquisite accent lights in bedrooms, hallways, and sitting rooms, while contemporary porcelain portable lamps available in the Firefly and Dome families mean you can take the fun and elegance wherever you like.
The Blossoming of Marcel Wanders’ Nightbloom
The Nightbloom family of porcelain lights is the result of a collaboration of two masters in their fields: Lladró and Marcel Wanders design studio. These expressive luminaires draw on Lladró’s favoured theme of floral life and combine it with the keenly-felt and lingering influence of the artisan’s hand in the work itself, ultimately producing a slyly-reserved exaltation of nature, life, and craftsmanship.
Light and airy Nightbloom table light can be used to add an effervescent quality to minimalist design plans
Through a remarkable career Marcel Wanders has devoted himself, and his eponymous Amsterdam design studio, to reinjecting the warmth, vivacity, and excitement of the human element into design. His work is often vibrant and a little off-beat, but with taste and refinement. His devotion to the theme of humanity and the human element in design led him to use Nightbloom to expand on a common Lladró device: individually hand-shaped petals.
The flowers that adorn Lladró’s various porcelain figurines, sculptures, and lighting designs are each shaped and assembled, petal by petal, by the hands of a Lladró artisan. Marcel Wanders saw in this process an artistic and symbolic value, and in Nightbloom the opportunity to draw added attention to the hand that creates their shapes.
Every petal for every Nightbloom table, wall, pendant, or floor light is first cast from slip–a liquid slurry form of porcelain–into a sleek flowerpetal shape comprised of what is called long clay–ie., a clay-like material that has low plasticity and cohesion. These greenware (unfired ceramic) shapes are then painstakingly hand-etched by Lladró artisans. Countless long and fluid lines running along the faces of every petal are etched, one by one, creating a textured surface that caresses the light as it escapes from within each porcelain lighting fixture.
Hand-etched and hand-painted, every single Nightbloom petal is as unique as a fingerprint
At last, the petals are fired into fine porcelain, delicate in appearance but strong in nature. Some are decorated pre-firing with golden glaze accents–others are not. In both cases, the undecorated porcelain is left matte white, a finish Marcel Wanders specifically chose because the rich, supple character of porcelain itself lends Nightbloom an air of essential naturality.
Once cooled, the petals are hand-finished and assembled into the final Nightbloom light. The talent, skill, and patience of Lladró’s brilliant craftspeople is captured in every Nightbloom shade, and this entire family of lights stands as a testament to their dedication and brilliance. As a result of their care and attention, and owing to the extensive handcrafting of each petal, each and every Nightbloom luminaire received by lighting enthusiasts all over the world is ultimately, and entirely, unique.
Nightbloom pendant lights add a fluid, etherial drama to hospitality lighting plans
The boldly vivacious and contemporary suspension lights of the
Firefly collection make ideal additions to hospitality lighting plans.
If anything has contributed to their success more than their porcelain, it is the people who together are Lladró. After almost seventy years, the company is still family-owned, with Juan, José, and Vicente’s children now sharing in ownership. The craftspeople, artisans, technicians, and everyone else who have played a role in Lladró’s nearly-seventy-year story bring an essential humanity to the brand that has been every bit as integral to Lladró as the refinement of its porcelain. As a brand, Lladró is devoted to the cultivation of ethical and sustainable business, with ongoing internal initiatives to promote not only ecology, but accessibility, representation, and equality.
LightForm is proud to not only offer the distinguished designer porcelain lighting fixtures created by this legendary brand, but also a selection of fun and contemporary collectible figurines designed by some of the finest designers in Europe. Find the Lladró creation that speaks to your soul online, or through one of our offices and showrooms in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna, and Winnipeg.
Not all lights and figurines, or variants thereof, featured in this post are listed on LightFormSHOP.com. Please contact your LightForm representative to order.