MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: D. 9⅞" 25.1cm
OBJECT NAME: Plates
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1760
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 63.244. AB
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 378 AB
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “22” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: Arthur S. Vernay, New York, 1943.
These plates 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 psychoanalysis 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.
Sprays of natural flowers take up the center of these plates. The reserves on the flanges frame paintings in onglaze enamel of songbirds perched on branches that were likely based on hand-colored plates from Eleazar Albin’s (1713-1759) two volume work A Natural History of Birds, first published in London in 1731, with a second edition in 1738. The Meissen manufactory had a copy of the work, one of the earliest illustrated books on birds that Albin completed with his daughter Elizabeth. Keeping caged songbirds was popular with many people across a broad spectrum of the eighteenth-century middle class and nobility, and their decorative potential was exploited especially in wall coverings, textiles, and ceramics.
The specialist bird painters (Vogelmaler) at Meissen were low in number compared to the flower painters, but the term “color painter” (Buntmaler) was a fluid term indicating that painters moved from one category to another as demand required, especially for flower, fruit and bird subjects.
The low relief pattern on the flanges of the plates is the so-called “New Dulong” (Neu Dulong) pattern named for the Amsterdam merchant who was a dealer for Meissen. Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) recorded modeling a trial plate for a table service for Monsieur Dulong in June 1743. The process of creating shallow relief patterns was laborious and required considerable skill, and the “New Dulong” pattern was one of the first to break away from the formality of the basket weave designs to introduce a flowing pattern in the rococo style.
These plates belong to the same or similar pattern as the tureen, cover, and stand (ID number 1992.0427.20 abc.)
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 relief decoration see Reinheckel, G., 1968, ‘Plastiche Dekorationsformen im Meissner Porzellan des 18 Jahrhunderts’ in Keramos, 41/42, Juli/Oktober , p. 103, 104, 77-No. 60.
On the painting division at Meissen see Rückert, R., 1990, Biographische Daten der Meißener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts, pp. 134-136
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 412-413.