Meissen red stoneware knife handle

PURCHASED FROM: William H.Lautz, New York, 1959.
This knife handle is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of European 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 collector and 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 knife handle was made in red stoneware, a very hard and dense type of ceramic similar in appearance to the Chinese Yixing ceramics which inspired their imitation at Meissen. Red stoneware, enriched with iron oxides, preceded porcelain in the Dresden laboratory where physicist, mathematician, and philosopher, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651-1708) and alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) experimented with raw materials fused by solar energy amplified through a burning glass. Success in red stoneware was an important step towards development of white porcelain.
The knife handle is of polished red-brown stoneware molded in a pistol shape. The blade is silver.
Johann Friedrich Böttger recruited highly skilled artisans working in other materials to refine the red stoneware products and associate them with luxury artifacts made from agate, serpentine, and jasper. Dresden court artisans demonstrated their virtuosity in the transformation of raw materials into artifacts that dazzle the eye, examples of which can be seen today in the Grünes Gewölbe (the Green Vaults) in Dresden. Such objects brought prestige to the Saxon Elector and King of Poland Augustus II in competition with similar collections held in the major European courts, the early eighteenth-century Kunstkammern that held a large collections of artifacts where the virtuoso skills of court artisans and artists became a public statement of the knowledge, taste, and wealth of a ruler.
On the Dresden Kunstkammer see the 1978 exhibition catalog The Splendor of Dresden: Five Centuries of Art Collecting.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp.24-25.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
red stoneware (overall material)
polished red stoneware (overall color)
overall: 7 1/2 in; 19.05 cm
Place Made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
collector/donor number
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Hans C. Syz Collection

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