Meissen allegorical figure group representing fire

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TITLE: Meissen allegorical figure group representing fire
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 7¼" 18.4 cm
OBJECT NAME: Figure group
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1987.0896.28
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1944.
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.
Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) may have modeled this allegorical representation of fire in May 1747, or it could be the work of Friedrich Elias Meyer (1724-1785). Allegories of the four elements, earth air, fire, and water were cornerstones of the baroque repertoire, rendered in many branches of the visual arts. The figures in this version may refer to Roman mythology and the visit of Venus and Cupid to Vulcan, the keeper of fire and the maker of weapons. In Virgil’s Aeneid Venus persuades Vulcan, her estranged spouse, to make weapons for Aeneas, the son she bore by the shepherd Anchises. (See Die Arbeitsberichte des Meissener Porzellanmodelleurs Johann Joachim Kaendler 1706-1775, 2002, Leipzig 2002, p.118).
Allegorical and mythological figure groups, especially when made in sugar or in porcelain to decorate dessert tables at banquets or court festivals, were a focus for conversation and diversion where guests could display knowledge of their meanings and origins derived from Renaissance classical humanism, the literature and visual art of ancient Greece and Rome. Eighteenth-century educated elites encountered allegorical themes as they walked in the parks and gardens of great houses and palaces; fountains, grottoes and architectural features supported large scale sculptures in stone, and more rarely bronze, that personified beings associated with water, the seasons, the hunt, and the four elements.
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.
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, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 438-439.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1740-1750
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
allegory of fire (overall style)
overall: 7 1/4 in; 18.415 cm
overall: 7 5/16 in x 6 5/8 in x 4 5/8 in; 18.57375 cm x 16.8275 cm x 11.7475 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
collector/donor number
Credit Line
Dr. Hans Syz
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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