Meissen figure of a dairy seller

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TITLE: Meissen figure of a Russian dairy seller
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 6¾" 17.2 cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1983.0565.59
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARK: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: Minerva Antiques, New York, 1943.
This figure 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 figure of a Russian street trader was the work of Peter Reinicke (1715-1768). Reinicke was born in Danzig and joined the Meissen manufactory in 1743 assembling and finishing figures and figure groups. A year later his abilities led to work as a modeler and assistant to Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) who held Reinicke in high regard. When working in collaboration with Kaendler he would often complete the fine details of a model.
It is not clear what the trader has for sale concealed in the container on his head; possibly cream as he has a small pitcher in his right hand. He wears a knee-length garment tied at the waist common to many of the Russian street crier figures male and female. The figure is part of a series modeled by Reinicke in the late 1740s to1750 based on engravings of Russian street traders.
The subject of street traders in the visual arts has a long history reaching back into the cities of the ancient world. City inhabitants, especially the working poor who lived in cramped accommodations with scarce facilities for cooking, depended heavily on the “fast food” and drink provided by street vendors and bake houses. Street sellers were themselves poor, and the range of goods sold or bartered varied widely, limited only by what could be carried by the individual, wheeled in a barrow, or loaded onto a donkey, mule or ass sometimes pulling a cart. People of a higher social class regarded street traders with contempt on the one hand, but also as colorful curiosities on the other, often in conflict with one another and with city authorities. In 1500, a series of anonymous woodcuts titled the Cries of Paris was an early example of what became a highly popular genre in print form well into the nineteenth century, and especially so in commercially active cities like Paris and London where street sellers formed not only part of the spectacle of display and consumption, but also the raucous sound of the street as they vocalized their merchandise.
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 figure is painted in overglaze enamel colors.
On street traders see Miller, D. C., 1970, Street Criers and Itinerant Tradesmen in European Prints, and Shesgreen, S., 1990, The Criers and Hawkers of London: Engravings and drawings by Marcellus Laroon. 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.
On the Russian Street Trader series see Yvonne Adams, 2001, Meissen Figures 1730-1775: The Kaendler Years.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 426-427.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1745
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels (overall color)
Russian street trader (overall style)
overall: 6 3/4 in; 17.145 cm
overall: 6 7/8 in x 2 1/2 in x 2 5/8 in; 17.4625 cm x 6.35 cm x 6.6675 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog 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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