Meissen underglaze blue tankard

Description
MARKS: Crossed swords with a “K” between pommels in underglaze blue on the inside wall of the tankard (possibly the underglaze blue painter Johann David Kretschmar (1697-1765). On the pewter lid, three touches: swan, initials “CT”, and hallmark for 1708 (year last guild rules were adopted).
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1948.
This tankard 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 pigment 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 originals. 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.
The flower painted on the tankard is a chrysanthemum, which for centuries has been associated with fall in Chinese culture, and carries many other symbolic and poetic meanings. Introduced to Japan from China in the Nara period (710-793) it was valued for its medicinal properties, and the flower came to represent immortality. In stylized form it is the official seal of the Imperial family. In Japan it is also associated with the sun because of its radial petals of gold and yellow hues. Chrysanthemums reached this continent in the colonial period.
The German pewter base and cover with its hinged ball thumbpiece has an engraved image of European origin featuring a man and a woman sitting under a tree in a pastoral setting.
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 a long used 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 and maintaining a relative standard in the component parts of Meissen table services.
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.
J. Carswell, 1985, Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain and its impact on the Western World.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 242-243.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
tankard
date made
1730-1735
maker
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
pewter mountings (overall material)
painted in underglaze cobalt blue (overall color)
ceramic; hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 8 in; 20.32 cm
overall: 8 in x 6 9/16 in x 5 9/16 in; 20.32 cm x 16.66875 cm x 14.12875 cm
Place Made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
ID Number
1984.1140.26
catalog number
1984.1140.26
accession number
1984.1140
collector/donor number
770
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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