MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: D. 13½" 34.2 cm
OBJECT NAME: Dish
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1730-1735
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 63.267
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 529
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords and “K” in underglaze blue; “3” incised.
PURCHASED FROM: Julius Carlebach, New York, 1944.
This dish 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 Germany, 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 dish was made in the Meissen manufactory but painted outside by an independent artist. Hausmalerei is a German word that means in literal translation ‘home painting’, and it refers to the practice of painting enamels and gold onto the surface of blank ceramics and glass in workshops outside the manufactory of origin. Beginning in the seventeenth century the work of the Hausmaler varied in quality from the outstanding workshops of Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland), to the less skilled efforts of amateur artists. Early Meissen porcelain was sought after for this purpose, and wealthy patrons of local enameling and gilding workshops purchased undecorated porcelain, often of out-moded or inferior quality, which was then enameled with subjects of their choice. Hausmalerei was at first acceptable to the early porcelain manufactories like Meissen and Vienna, and Meissen sent blank porcelain to Augsburg workshops for decoration, but as the market became more competitive they tried to eradicate the practice. It was a temptation for Meissen porcelain painters to take on extra work as Hausmaler to augment their low pay, and the manufactory cautioned or imprisoned them if Hausmalerei activity was suspected or discovered.
The dish has a variation of the Meissen “onion” pattern painted in underglaze blue at the manufactory. The gold decoration was applied later, probably in a workshop in Augsburg in the 1730s; the scrollwork on the gold band framing the center of the dish was typical of Augsburg ornamentation on porcelain, and fine dry point engraving on gold was another technique practiced by the Augsburg Hausmaler. The so-called underglaze blue “onion” pattern was a Meissen design incorporating various stylized motifs from original Chinese prototypes.
Underglaze blue is a pigment made from cobalt oxide that is applied to the surface of the porous raw clay or biscuit-fired porcelain before the high temperature glaze firing. At first, the Meissen manufactory struggled to find success in underglaze blue painting in imitation of Chinese and Japanese prototypes because cobalt oxide is a powerful flux and runs easily blurring the pattern under the glaze. After exhaustive trials involving a change to the porcelain body itself, this highly successful form of decoration entered production at Meissen in the early-to-mid 1720s. Cobalt was mined locally in the mineral rich Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) near the Saxon border with Bohemia, now the Czech Republic.
On Hausmaler see Ulrich Pietsch, 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: The Wark Collection from The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 43-46.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 504-505.