Meissen underglaze blue plate

Description
MARKS: Square mark with written characters in Japanese style; “10” impressed (former’s number).
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1945.
This plate 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 German Jewish collector and New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962), formerly of Frankfurt-am-Main. 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.
Early in Meissen’s history Johann Friedrich Böttger’s team searched for success in underglaze blue painting in imitation of the Chinese and Japanese prototypes in the Dresden collections. Böttger’s porcelain, however, was fired at a temperature higher than Chinese porcelain or German stoneware. As in China, the underglaze blue was painted on the clay surface before firing, but when glazed and fired the cobalt sank into the porcelain body and ran into the glaze instead of maintaining a sharp image like the Chinese cobalt blue painted porcelains. The Elector of Saxony and King of Poland Augustus II was not satisfied with the inferior product. Success in underglaze blue painting eluded Böttger’s team until Johann Gregor Höroldt (1696-1775) appropriated a workable formula developed by the metallurgist David Köhler (1673-1723). Success required adjustment to the porcelain paste by replacing the alabaster flux with feldspar and adding a percentage of porcelain clay (kaolin) to the cobalt pigment. Underglaze blue painting became a reliable and substantial part of the manufactory’s output in the 1730s.
This plate follows a pattern on a Japanese prototype made in Arita of a crouching tiger looking up at a grinning dragon emerging from the clouds. In this plate an animal of indeterminate species crouches underneath a prunus tree regarding a stylized dragon wrapped around bamboo. On the reverse side of the plate a stylized foliate pattern circles the underside of the rim with the copy of a Japanese mark in the center of the foot ring.
Underglaze blue painting requires skills similar to a watercolor artist. There are no second chances, and once the pigment touches the clay or biscuit-fired surface it cannot be eradicated easily. Many of Meissen’s underglaze blue designs were, and still are, “pounced” onto the surface of the vessel before painting. Pouncing is an ancient technique in which finely powdered charcoal or graphite is allowed to fall through small holes pierced through the outlines of a paper design, thereby serving as a guide for the painter. Pouncing also ensured a relative standard in patterns repeated on Meissen tea and dinner services.
For a fine example of the Japanese pattern after which this plate was painted see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: The Fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750, p. 154.
On underglaze blue painting at Meissen see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 22-23.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 236-237.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
plate
date made
1740
maker
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
painted in underglaze cobalt blue (overall color)
ceramic; hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 9 7/8 in; 25.0825 cm
overall: 1 1/2 in x 10 in; 3.81 cm x 25.4 cm
Place Made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
ID Number
1984.1140.14
accession number
1984.1140
catalog number
1984.1140.14
collector/donor number
545
subject
Domestic Furnishings
Art
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Manufacturing
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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