Meissen plate

TITLE: Meissen plate
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: D. 9¼" 23.5cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 62.844
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “16” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1943.
This plate 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 plate has a shallow relief pattern of floral spays known as “Gotzkowsky raised flowers” (erhabene Blumen). Painted in overglaze enamels where the relief pattern is absent are German flowers (deutsche Blumen). European flowers began to appear on Meissen porcelain in about 1740 as the demand for Far Eastern patterns became less dominant and more high quality printed sources became available in conjunction with growing interest in the scientific study of flora and fauna. For German flowers Meissen painters referred to Johann Wilhelm Weinmann’s publication, the Phytantoza Iconographia (Nuremberg 1737-1745), in which many of the plates were engraved after drawings by the outstanding botanical illustrator Georg Dionys Ehret (1708-1770). The more formally correct German flowers were superseded by mannered flowers (manier Blumen), depicted in a looser and somewhat overblown style based on the work of still-life flower painters and interior designers like Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699) and Louis Tessier (1719?-1781), later referred to as “naturalistic” flowers. Gold painting and polishing was the work of another division of specialists in the Meissen manufactory.
Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky (1710-1775) and his brother Christian Ludwig opened a business for the sale of luxury goods in Berlin in 1730, and are recorded in 1737as having business dealings with the Meissen Manufactory. Gotzkowsky was the Prussian court’s representative at the annual Leipzig Fair and in 1761 he founded the Royal Porcelain Manufactory (Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur) in Berlin. An outstanding entrepreneur, banker, art dealer and merchant until ruined by bankruptcy in 1763, Gotzkowsky was one of the first businessmen to commission a table service from the Meissen Manufactory. Originally modeled by Johann Friedrich Eberlein (1695-1749) in 1741, the pattern marks a break with the formality of the basket weave designs, and it was used for the table service made as a gift for Empress Elizabeth of Russia in 1744.
The Meissen manufactory operated under a system of division of labor. Flower painters were usually paid less than workers who specialized in figures and landscapes, and most painters received pay by the piece rather than a regular wage. In the late eighteenth century flower painters were even busier and consumer preference for floral decoration on domestic “china” continues into our own time, but with the exception of a manufactory like Meissen, where hand painting is still practiced, most floral patterns are now applied by transfers and are not painted directly onto the porcelain.
On the Gotzkowsky relief pattern see Reinheckel, G., 1968, ‘Plastiche Dekorationsformen im Meissner Porzellan des 18 Jahrhunderts’ in Keramos, 41/42, Juli/Oktober, p. 76-77.
On graphic sources for Meissen porcelain see Möller, K. A., “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.85-93; Cassidy-Geiger, M., 1996, ‘Graphic Sources for Meissen Porcelain’ in Metropolitan Museum Journal, 31, pp.99-126.
On Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky and his Berlin porcelain enterprise see Baer, W., Baer, I., Grosskopf-Knaack, S., 1986, Von Gotzkowsky zur KPM: aus der Frühzeit des friderizianischen Porzellans.
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, pp. 364-365.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1740-1745
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: 9 1/4 in; 23.495 cm
overall: 1 1/2 in x 9 3/8 in; 3.81 cm x 23.8125 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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