MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H. 6⅞" 17.5cm
OBJECT NAME: Vinegar pot
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1735
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 71.201 a,b
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 744 a,b
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: S. Berges, New York, 1947.
This vinegar pot is 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.
This vinegar pot was part of a plat de ménage that served as a centerpiece on the dining or banqueting table, also known as an ‘Epargne’ from the French épargner’ meaning to serve and often made in silver or silver gilt. The plat de ménage held cruet sets containing various condiments like oil and vinegar, mustard, salt, spices, and sugar for guests to season their food during service in the French style of three main savory courses before the often spectacular dessert. The vinegar pot’s partner was the oil pot, and the Meissen modelers designed the vinegar pot with a grimacing mask at the base of the spout as can be seen here, whereas the oil pot sometimes has a mask that smiles affably. The two containers were used for dressing salads and vegetables in much the same way as some people choose to do today. The largest vessel on a plat de ménage was the lemon basket and in later models centerpieces were exploited by the Meissen modelers for their sculptural potential by introducing figures and elaborate ornamentation.
The vinegar pot has a double scroll handle and the long thin spout allows for better control in pouring the liquid onto the food. The cover has a finial in the shape of an artichoke. A band of egg and dart raised molding separates flying phoenixes in the upper section of the pot (Ho-ho birds in Japanese mythology with different aspects to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern phoenix). In the lower band are rice bundle straw fences and flowering tree peonies. Apart from the enamel painted pattern the oil pot is a product of the European baroque style and no such vessel existed in China or Japan unless copied for export after European models. This pot and the oil pot similar to it except for the painted subjects (ID# 71.202 a,b) derive their shape and ornament from contemporary European silver vessels for a plat de ménage.
On the ‘plat de ménage’ see Hantschmann, K., “The ‘plat de ménage’: The Centrepiece on the Banqueting Table”, in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 106-119.
For a sugar caster with a similar onglaze enamel pattern see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, p.282; see also Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, p.229. Johann Joachim Kaendler’s work book records two occasions when he modeled oil and vinegar pots, in June 1733 and January 1734, but it is not clear to which version this pot belongs, see Die Arbeitsberichte des Meissener Porzellanmodelleurs Johann Joachim Kaendler 1706-1775, 2002 , pp.19-20, p. 22.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 158-159.