Meissen underglaze blue cup and saucer

Description
MARKS: Crossed swords with formers’ and painters’ marks in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1946.
These parts of a tea service are 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 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 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 clear 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 design for this tea service may have its origins in the late 1720s, but the impressed marks on these pieces indicate a later date, and the service was in production for many years. The shapes are based on contemporary silver vessels, but the raised lobes were exploited to resemble Far Eastern lotus patterns with alternate painted motifs of stylized insects and flowers. The service contains underglaze blue painted birds perched in flowering trees and scenes of a seated Chinese fisherman, a pattern that occurs frequently in Meissen blue and white porcelain. Additional decoration is supplied by the scale pattern between the reserves
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, and for a teapot with the same pattern see p. 265.
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: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 240-241.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
cup
saucer
date made
1745
maker
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
painted in underglaze cobalt blue (overall color)
ceramic; hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
Measurements
cup: 1 3/4 in; 4.445 cm
saucer: 4 5/8 in; 11.7475 cm
overall cup: 1 3/4 in x 3 3/8 in x 2 15/16 in; 4.445 cm x 8.5725 cm x 7.46125 cm
overall saucer: 1 3/16 in x 4 9/16 in; 3.01625 cm x 11.58875 cm
Place Made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
ID Number
1984.1140.17Bab
catalog number
1984.1140.17Bab
accession number
1984.1140
collector/donor number
572
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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