MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Cup: H. 2⅝" 6.7cm; Saucer: D. 5¼" 13.3cm
OBJECT NAME: Cup and saucer
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1740-1750
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1984.1140.36 a,b
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 1256 a,b
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “53 impressed on cup; “P” impressed on saucer.
PURCHASED FROM: A. Neuberger, New York, 1962.
This cup and saucer 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.
The cup and saucer have flowering prunus in relief on their exterior surfaces, and this type of decoration revived in the 1740s, is reminiscent of the early Böttger porcelains with similar ornament based on Chinese Dehua (blanc de Chine) porcelains with the prunus branches in high relief; prototypes with this pattern were in the royal collections in Dresden and made available to Johann Friedrich Böttger as models for early Meissen porcelain. In 1745 Johann Joachim Kaendler revived some of the patterns from the first decade of Meissen’s production that were, like this pattern, particularly admired. For an example of a similar cup and saucer, but with a yellow ground, enamel-painted chinoiseries and gilding see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, p. 450, with on p. 451 a white teapot made at about the same date with prunus blossoms in relief.
The motif of the flowering prunus came from Chinese sources where fruit trees depicted in late winter and early spring bloom symbolize resilience and rebirth after winter and are the harbingers of spring.
The manufactory employed “mechanics” (Mechaniker), men who could maintain and oversee the use of machinery for the processing of materials, but also invent tools and devices that extended and supported the skills of mold makers and turners, ensuring a standard in uniformity and quality in the production of table services in particular. Most of Meissen’s vessels were made in plaster of Paris molds rotated on a wheel with the turner (Dreher) using a template or profile to guide the shape to an even thickness so as to avoid distortion in the firing. Oval forms were made using machines designed to carry a profile that followed an eccentric movement guided by a jig. All wares were turned in rough form and the porcelain allowed to air dry until it could hold its own shape before refining the surface with iron turning tools, smoothing away blemishes with a sponge, and polishing with a small piece of ivory or horn: all these mechanical devices and tools were made in the manufactory, sometimes improved upon and made by workers themselves. (See Rückert, R., 1990, Biographische Daten der Meissener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts, p. 100).
On blanc de Chine in the Hickley Collection, Singapore, see Kerr, R., and Ayers, J., 2002, Blanc de Chine Porcelain from Dehua, and especially the contribution by Eva Ströber, “Dehua Porcelain in the Collection of Augustus the Strong in Dresden.”
For evidence of the Meissen Manufactory’s technical workers the methods employed see Rückert, R. 1990, Biographische Daten der Meissener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 220-221.