Meissen figure of a woman in Turkish dress from a plat de ménage

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TITLE: Meissen figure of a woman in Turkish dress from a plat de ménage
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 6½" 16.5 cm.
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1745-1750
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 65.383
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARK: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1941.
This figure 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.
Modeled by Johann Friedrich Eberlein (1696-1749), the woman in oriental dress sits beside a covered bowl molded with a basket weave pattern designed to serve sugar or salt in a plat de ménage. A similar model exists of a man with the same bowl. The Plats de Ménage served as elaborate table-center pieces with containers designed to hold flavorings for food: mustard, spices, salt, sugar, oil, vinegar, and often, rising above the cruet set on a sculpted column, a bowl or basket for lemons, an expensive and prestigious luxury on the eighteenth-century dining table. The Plats de Ménage were based on silver prototypes and designed to “save” (French épargner) space at the table set with dishes for the French style of service popular in the eighteenth century.
The Ottoman Empire, known as the “Turkish” empire, was once part of Europe with a long held presence in the southeast of the continent, but while it was an entity feared by many, Ottoman Turkey was also a source of fascination that for 200 years before the eighteenth century influenced European literature, theater, and the visual arts. By the 1700s European towns and cities had “Turkish”-style coffee houses, people ate “Turkish” sweets, smoked “Turkish” pipes, and wore “Turkish”-style garments. The figure here is of a European woman in Turkish-style dress, a form of luxurious clothing adopted by the social elites.
A publication about the wider Middle East that made a great impression on the European imagination was the Recueil de cent Estampes representant differentes nations du Levant (Collection of One hundred Prints of the Various Nations of the Levant) with engravings by Louis Gérard Scotin (1690-1751) after the drawings by Jacques Le Hay after the paintings by Jean Baptiste van Mour (1671-1737). In 1699, the French ambassador appointed to Istanbul was the Marquis Charles de Ferriol. Early in the eighteenth century he commissioned the young Flemish painter Jean Baptiste van Mour to record Ottoman court life and the social customs, social classes, and occupations of Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire. The published collection of prints fired the imagination of those who saw the volume in 1714-15. The Meissen modeler Peter Eberlein based figures of a Persian, of a Sultana, and a Bulgarian woman on Scotin’s engravings after Le Hay.
Meissen figures and figure groups are usually sculpted in special modeling clay and then carefully cut into separate pieces from which individual molds are made. Porcelain clay is then pressed into the molds and the whole figure or group reassembled to its original form, a process requiring great care and skill. The piece is then dried thoroughly before firing in the kiln. In the production of complex figure groups the work is arduous and requires the making of many molds from the original model.
The figure is painted in overglaze enamel colors with gold highlights on the basket. “Indian flowers” (indianische Blumen) decorate the long tunic under her mantel.
On the Plat de Ménage see Katharina Hantschmann, “The plat de ménage: The Centerpiece on the Banqueting Table” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 107-119.
On Jean-Baptiste Vanmour see Nefedova-Gruntova, O, 2009, A Journey into the World of the Ottomans:The Art of Jean-Baptiste Vanmour. See also Williams, H., 2014, Turquerie: An Eighteenth-Century European Fantasy.
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.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 456-457.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1750
Meissen Manufactory
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 3/8 in x 5 3/4 in x 4 in; 16.1925 cm x 14.605 cm x 10.16 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
collector/donor number
Credit Line
Dr. Hans Syz
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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