Meissen figure group: a pair of young lovers

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TITLE: Meissen figure group of a pair of young lovers
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H.6½ in. 16.5cm.
OBJECT NAME: Figure group
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1774 -1780
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: CE*65.385
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARK: Crossed swords in underglaze blue inside a triangle (impressed).
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1942.
The figure group of a pair of young lovers 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.
The young couple appear to be in animated conversation as they walk together informally, and this is characteristic of late eighteenth-century figure groups that represent a transition from the porcelain sculptures tailored to the interests of the Dresden court before the Seven Year’s War of 1756-1763; a conflict that ruined the Saxon economy and limited the excesses of the Saxon ruling elite. Although French influence is evident in the piece, educated and affluent Germans were inclined to reject the court fashions associated with the ancien régime in favor of subjects that expressed more “natural” behavior. The professional and entrepreneurial middle class in German-speaking Europe enjoyed the products of expansion in the publishing world that brought new ideas, material products, and imaginative literature into their consciousness, and it was literature in particular that generated the cultivation of sensibility (Empfindsamkeit) through popular novels, journals, and conduct books. A “cult” that went too far in encouraging emotional extremes, according to contemporaries like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in his youth had written the novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther” that expressed this extreme to great effect among the reading public. Sensibility was, nevertheless, a phenomenon that made a considerable impact on European culture.
The figures are possibly the work of Johann Joachim Kaendler, who died in 1775. Appointed to the Meissen modeling team after the Seven Years War, the French sculptor in porcelain Michel Victor Acier (1736-1799) introduced a style influenced by the work of French painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze; an artist criticized for overreaching sentimentality in his subjects.
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.
On sensibility with reference to Britain see Barker Benfield, G.J., “Sensibility” in Iain McCalman, (general editor) 1999, An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age, pp. 102-114; Cantorino, B. B., (ed.) 2005, German Literature of the Eighteenth Century: The Enlightenment and Sensibility.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 462-463.
Currently not on view
Date made
ca 1750
date made
Royal Porcelain Factory
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
Physical Description
blue (overall color)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
overall: 6 1/2 in; 16.51 cm
overall: 6 1/2 in x 3 9/16 in x 2 3/8 in; 16.51 cm x 9.04875 cm x 6.0325 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
Credit Line
From the Hans Syz Collection
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Industry & Manufacturing
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Meissen Porcelain: The Hans Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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