Meissen red stoneware kendi

PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.
This kendi, or drinking vessel, 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 collector and 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 drinking vessel was made in red stoneware, a very hard and dense type of ceramic similar in appearance to the Chinese Yixing ceramics which inspired their imitation at Meissen. Red stoneware, enriched with iron oxides, preceded porcelain in the Dresden laboratory where physicist, mathematician, and philosopher, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651-1708) and alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) experimented with raw materials fused by solar energy amplified through a burning glass. Success in red stoneware was an important step towards development of white porcelain.
The bottle is a copy of a Yixing Kendi in the collection of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (1670-1733). A kendi is a drinking vessel made and used in many parts of South-East Asia. Large quantities of kendi were exported from China to other parts of South-East Asia and India from the tenth to the thirteenth century. When used as a drinking vessel liquid is poured through the neck into the globular pot and when held by the neck and tipped toward the drinker it issues from the spout on the shoulder of the vessel. The term kendi comes from the Sanskrit word kundika, a vessel made in precious metals used for carrying holy water in the religious ceremonials of Buddhist and Hindu South-East Asia.
The Meissen copy was taken from a plaster of Paris cast of a Yixing prototype. The bottle was press-molded in red stoneware clay, and you can see the seam quite clearly where one of the four sides of the mold were locked together. In low relief prunus blossoms decorate the belly of the vessel, and stylized dragons race around the neck. The spout is formed by an animal head and was molded separately. It is smaller than most spouts on oriental kendi.
For another example see Ulrich Pietsch, 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, p.73.
On kendi see Dawn Rooney at
On Yixing stonewares see Fang Lili, 2011, Chinese Ceramics, Cambridge University Press, p. 115 Zisha-the Taste of Tea.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 20-21.
Currently not on view
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
Physical Description
ceramic, stoneware, refined (overall material)
overall: 6 1/2 in; 16.51 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
Credit Line
Hans C. Syz Collection
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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