MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Teapot: H. 4¼" 10.8cm; Bowl: D. 7" 17.8cm; 2 cups: H. 2" 5.1cm; 2 saucers: D. 5¾" 14cm
OBJECT NAME: Tea service
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1750
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1989.0715.24 A,B,Cab,Dab
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 114 A, 115 B, 116 Cab, Bab
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; various impressed numbers (2,17,24).
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1942.
These parts of a tea service are from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.
The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in the German States, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.
These pieces from a tea service have a border of forget-me-nots in fine relief on their upper sections and are painted in overglaze enamel with naturalistic flowers.
European flowers began to appear on Meissen porcelain in about 1740 as the demand for Far Eastern patterns became less dominant and more high quality printed sources became available in conjunction with growing interest in the scientific study of flora and fauna. For the earlier style of German flowers (deutsche Blumen) the Meissen painters referred to Johann Wilhelm Weinmann’s publication, the Phytantoza Iconographia (Nuremberg 1737-1745), in which many of the plates were engraved after drawings by the outstanding botanical illustrator Georg Dionys Ehret (1708-1770). The more formally correct German flowers were superseded by mannered flowers (manier Blumen), depicted in a looser and somewhat overblown style based on the work of still-life flower painters and interior designers like Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699) and Louis Tessier (1719?-1781), later referred to as “naturalistic” flowers.
This tea service represents a transition from the earlier to the later style bearing characteristics of both the German and naturalistic flowers and this is not uncommon for this date of manufacture.
In the eighteenth century tea, coffee, and chocolate was served in the private apartments of aristocratic women, usually in the company of other women, but often with male admirers and intimates present. In affluent middle-class households tea was served in an informal gathering in the family’s private apartments, or made available to guests following a dinner. Tea and sugar were expensive items and kept under lock and key by the mistress of the house or a housekeeper. Coffee was more popular in Germany than tea, and many services included a coffeepot and a teapot. Coffee houses were exclusively male establishments and operated as gathering places for a variety of purposes in the interests of commerce, politics, culture, and social pleasure.
On graphic sources for Meissen porcelain see Möller, K. A., “Meissen Pieces Based on Graphic Originals” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp.85-93; Cassidy-Geiger, M., 1996, ‘Graphic Sources for Meissen Porcelain’ in Metropolitan Museum Journal, 31, pp.99-126.
On the history of tea and coffee consumption see Weinberg, B.A., Bealer, B.K., 2002, The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. On coffee see Ukers, W. H., 1922, All About Coffee and 1935 All About Tea; on the practice of drinking tea, coffee, and chocolate see Bowman, P.B., 1995, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea-drinking 1600-1850; On the coffee house see Ellis, M. 2011, The Coffee House: A Cultural History.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 382-383.