Meissen milk pot and cover

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TITLE: Meissen milk pot and cover
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H. 4⅞" 12.4cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1740-1750
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1987.0896.19ab
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “R” in gold (on both pieces).
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1944.
This milk pot and cover 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 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 elaborate black enamel and gold cartouche that frames the enamel painted subjects on this little pot matches a teapot stand featuring a landscape with figures (ID number 1987.0896.22). Both pieces have scattered German flowers and they share the same marks, so we can assume they came from the same service. Their small size indicates that they belonged to an individual breakfast service or travelling service.
The cover with its open flower finial has onglaze enamel vignettes of harbor scenes, and on one side of the pot we see a European harbor scene based on prints after Dutch maritime painters of the seventeenth century. A large vessel at anchor on a glassy sea waits for cargo while a small boat on the shore is either loading or off-loading bundles and barrels of goods. Two men, probably a merchant and a seaman are in conversation nearby. Sources for Meissen’s enamel painted harbor scenes came from the vast number of prints after paintings by Italian, Dutch, and Flemish masters of the seventeenth century that formed a major part of Meissen’s output from the early 1720s until the 1750s. On the other side of the pot three figures stand near a post stone with the post horn emblem of Thurn & Taxis below the crossed swords of Meissen with figures looking towards a large castle standing on a cliff on the far side of a ravine. In the foreground a laborer digs in a large trench of recently excavated soil. The Meissen manufactory accumulated folios of prints, about six to twelve in a set, as well as illustrated books and individual prints after the work of many European artists, especially the work of Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), Jan van de Velde (1593-1641). Printed images enriched people’s lives and a series of prints might take the viewer on a journey, real or imaginary. Prints performed a role in European visual culture later extended by photography and film, and they provided artisans and artists with images, motifs, and patterns applied in many branches of the applied arts.
The Meissen manufactory operated under a system of division of labor. Enamel painters specializing in landscapes and subjects with figures 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. On-glaze gold decoration was the work of specialist gold painters and polishers in the painting division.
On graphic sources for Meissen’s painters see Möller, K. A., “’…fine copper pieces for the factory…’ Meissen Pieces Based on graphic originals” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 84-93. 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. 318-319.
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)
harbor scene and landscape with figures (overall style)
overall: 4 7/8 in; 12.3825 cm
overall: 4 3/4 in x 4 1/4 in x 3 1/4 in; 12.065 cm x 10.795 cm x 8.255 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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