Meissen figure group

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TITLE: Meissen figure group of cupids by a column
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 8¾" 22.3 cm.
OBJECT NAME: Figure group
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1750-1760
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 73.179 a,b
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue on the larger section.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1944.
This figure group 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.
The three cupids honor a personage crowned with a laurel wreath represented in a medallion on the column. One of the cupids, dressed in the military attire of ancient Rome, suggests that the person honored is a military figure. Laurel wreaths, made from the broadleaf evergreen bay tree, were placed on the heads of victors in the Olympic Games of ancient Greece. Poets were also honored with this emblem, and still are in a figurative sense when appointed “poet laureate.” Military commanders and leaders of empire like the Caesars of Rome were often portrayed with a laurel wreath encircling their heads on coins, and following the classical style it was common to use the emblem in representations of eighteenth-century rulers, military leaders, and poets, especially after their death.
This group has two parts that combine to make the whole; the seated cupid rests on the smaller section. It is possible that the group was made from two unrelated models.
Meissen figures and figure groups are usually sculpted in special modeling clay and then cut carefully into separate pieces from which individual molds are made. Porcelain clay is then pressed into the molds and the whole figure or group reassembled to its original form, a process requiring great care and skill. The piece is then dried thoroughly before firing in the kiln. In the production of complex figure groups the work is arduous and requires the making of many molds from the original model.
The group is painted in overglaze enamel colors and gold, although the modeling on the base of the larger section is not gilded to match the smaller piece.
On the modeling and molding process still practiced today at Meissen see Alfred Ziffer, “‘…skillfully made ready for moulding…’ The Work of Johann Joachim Kaendler” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, pp.61-67.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 466-467.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1750-1760
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
rococo figure group. (overall style)
overall: 8 3/4 in; 22.225 cm
overall large section: 8 13/16 in x 8 in x 4 1/2 in; 22.38375 cm x 20.32 cm x 11.43 cm
overall small section: 5 3/4 in x 6 3/16 in x 3 1/2 in; 14.605 cm x 15.71625 cm x 8.89 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
collector/donor number
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Meissen Porcelain: The Hans Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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