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The word porcelain is derived from porcellana, a word used by Marco Polo (1254-1324) to describe the exquisite white clay vessels from China that resembled small Mediterranean cowry shells. Although porcelain production began in China during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century, it was not until the 14th century that porcelain vessels were brought to Europe along the Silk Road trading route.

As expensive as or more expensive than solid gold, porcelain was prized by 18th century European nobility and was a status symbol for wealthy patrons. This stand (underplate) depicts Venetian explorer Marco Polo showing Mongolian general and Emperor of China Kublai Khan (1215-1294) the location of China on a map of Asia.