Meissen cup and saucer

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TITLE: Meissen cup and saucer
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Cup: H. 2¾" 7cm; Saucer: D. 6¾" 13.1cm
OBJECT NAME: Cup and saucer
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1740-1750
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
ID NUMBER: 1987.0896.25 a,b
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; cross in gold; “24” impressed on cup; “//” incised on saucer.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1942.
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 cup and saucer feature overglaze enamel painted figures from the French adaptation of the Italian Comedy. On the saucer a couple stand before a parkland setting, and on the cup a young woman dances in a similar landscape watched by the partly concealed figure of a man to her left. On the reverse of the cup one figure plays a guitar and sings while the other hides in the bushes, probably the characters Scaramouche and Scapin, again from the Italian Comedy which was a highly popular comedic form across the social classes.
In the work of French artist Jean Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) we see the development of the fêtes galantes based on the outdoor entertainments in private and public pleasure parks that represent youthful elite society removed from the conventions of court protocol. Watteau’s works depicted conversational, theatrical, and amorous encounters set in idealized pastoral surroundings where the fleeting nature of temporal pleasures hangs over the delicately poised gatherings, and they struck a chord with living protagonists.
Numerous engravings were printed after works by Antoine Watteau, and in the early 1740s the Meissen manufactory began to acquire a collection of copperplate engravings on which the painters based their “Watteauszenen” (Watteau scenes). These subjects became so much in demand that eleven enamel painters were appointed to specialize in work from these sources.
The Meissen manufactory operated under a system of division of labor. Enamel painters specializing in landscapes, with staffage (figures and animals) and Watteau scenes were paid more than those who painted flowers, fruits and underglaze blue patterns. Most painters received pay by the piece rather than a regular wage or salary. The gold scrollwork on the interior of the cup and saucer was the work of another specialist in the painting division.
On Antoine Watteau see Thomas Crow, 1985, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris, chapter II, ‘Fêtes Galantes and Fêtes Publiques’, pp. 55-75. See also Sheriff, M. D., (ed.) 2006, Antoine Watteau: Perspectives on the Artist and the Culture of His Time.
On the painting division at Meissen see Rückert, R., 1990, Biographische Daten der Meissener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts, pp. 134-136.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 338-339.
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)
Watteau scenes (overall style)
cup: 2 3/4 in; 6.985 cm
saucer: 6 3/4 in; 17.145 cm
overall cup: 2 5/8 in x 4 in x 3 1/4 in; 6.6675 cm x 10.16 cm x 8.255 cm
overall saucer: 1 7/8 in x 5 1/8 in x 5 3/8 in; 4.7625 cm x 13.0175 cm x 13.6525 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


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