Meissen cup and saucer

<< >>
TITLE: Meissen cup and saucer
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Cup: H.2" 5.1cm; Saucer: 5¾" x 4⅞" 14.6cm x 12.4cm
OBJECT NAME: Cup and saucer
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1984.1140.24 ab
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “17” impressed on cup.
PURCHASED FROM: Hans. E. Backer, London, England, 1947. Ex. Coll. E. L. Paget.
This cup and saucer 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 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.
The quatrefoil cup and saucer have alternate panels in which foliate arabesques pinned with stylized flowers in gold are reserved on an iron-red ground. Painted in onglaze enamels on alternate white panels are sprays of flowering ominaeshi plants (patrinia scabiosifolia). The design was adapted from Japanese porcelain attributed to Kakiemon models, but it has elements of the Imari style as well.
Kakiemon is the name given to very white (nigoshida meaning milky-white) finely potted Japanese porcelain made in the Nangawara Valley near the town of Arita in the North-West of the island of Kyushu. The porcelain bears a characteristic style of enamel painting using a palette of translucent colors painted with refined assymetric designs attributed to a family of painters with the name Kakiemon. In the 1650s, when Chinese porcelain was in short supply due to civil unrest following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchu in 1644, Arita porcelain was at first exported to Europe through the Dutch East India Company’s base on the island of Dejima in the Bay of Nagasaki. The Japanese traded Arita porcelain only with Chinese, Korean, and Dutch merchants , and the Chinese resold Japanese porcelain to the Dutch in Batavia (present day Jakarta), to the English and French at the port of Canton (present day Guangzhou) and Amoy (present day Xiamen). Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, obtained Japanese porcelain through his agents operating in Amsterdam who purchased items from Dutch merchants, and from a Dutch dealer in Dresden, Elizabeth Bassetouche.
This particular design was much in demand in France late in the eighteenth century, and in England both the Bow and Chelsea manufactories produced versions of the pattern for tea and coffee services. The foliate scroll or arabesque pattern seen on the iron-red panels is known in Japan as Karakusa (also called the octopus scroll and Chinese grass motif). It has its origins in plant patterns of considerable antiquity that reached Japan through China, but appear to have migrated to China from Central Asia and possibly from the eastern Mediterranean. In Japan the Karakusa pattern developed into a popular abstract motif derived from nature that is still in use today. The “octopus” connection comes from the idea that the little “feet” protruding from the stem resemble octopus suckers.
On the development of Japanese Kakiemon and Imari porcelain see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750, and on Kakiemon see Impey, O., Jörg, J. A., Mason, C., 2009, Dragons, Tigers and Bamboo: Japanese Porcelain and its Impact in Europe, the Macdonald Collection. See also: Takeshi Nagataki, 2003, Classic Japanese Porcelain: Imari and Kakiemon; Goro Shimura, 2008, The Story of Imari: the Symbols and Mysteries of antique Japanese Porcelain
For examples of other items in this pattern see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 310-311; Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S. 145-148.
On the impact of Chinese porcelain worldwide see Finley, R., 2010, The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 202-203.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1740
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
Kakiemon / Imari (overall style)
cup: 2 in; 5.08 cm
saucer: 5 3/4 in x 4 7/8 in; 14.605 cm x 12.3825 cm
overall cup: 2 in x 4 1/8 in x 3 1/8 in; 5.08 cm x 10.4775 cm x 7.9375 cm
overall saucer: 1 1/8 in x 5 11/16 in x 4 7/8 in; 2.8575 cm x 14.4145 cm x 12.3825 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession 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


Add a comment about this object