Meissen underglaze blue vinegar pot

Description
MARKS: Crossed swords and “8” in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1943.
This oil pot 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 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 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.
Early in Meissen’s history Johann Friedrich Böttger’s team searched for success in underglaze blue painting in imitation of the Chinese and Japanese prototypes in the Dresden collections. Böttger’s porcelain, however, was fired at a temperature higher than Chinese porcelain or German stoneware. As in China, the underglaze blue was painted on the clay surface before firing, but when glazed and fired the cobalt sank into the porcelain body and ran into the glaze instead of maintaining a clear image like the Chinese cobalt blue painted porcelains. The Elector of Saxony and King of Poland Augustus II was not satisfied with the inferior product. Success in underglaze blue painting eluded Böttger’s team until Johann Gregor Höroldt (1696-1775) appropriated a workable formula developed by the metallurgist David Köhler (1673-1723). Success required adjustment to the porcelain paste by replacing the alabaster flux with feldspar and adding a percentage of porcelain clay (kaolin) to the cobalt pigment. Underglaze blue painting became a reliable and substantial part of the manufactory’s output in the 1730s.
Painted on the oil pot is the so-called “onion pattern” (zwiebelmuster) based on motifs found in Chinese blue and white porcelain of the Kangxi period (1662-1722) but designed at Meissen, and a modified pattern is still in production today. The flower commonly seen on this pattern is a chrysanthemum -seen here on the lower section of the pot -which represents immortality in Chinese culture, and is also associated with the sun because of its radial petals of gold and yellow hues. The so-called ‘onion’ represents a stylized pomegranate, a symbol of fertility and good fortune in China.
The pot’s cover is missing. To indicate its mellow contents the mask at the base of the spout has a smile rather than a grimace, and it has a dragon head at its tip. The pot was part of a plat de ménage or epargne, an elaborate centerpiece on the dining table containing condiments to accompany the main dishes. For a similar example with a lid intact see the exhibition catalog Triumph of the blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, edited by Ulrich Pietsch and Claudia Banz, Dresden and Leipzig: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and E.A. Seemann Verlag, 2010, p. 266.
Underglaze blue painting requires skills similar to a watercolor artist. There are no second chances, and once the pigment touches the clay or biscuit-fired surface it cannot be eradicated easily. Many of Meissen’s underglaze blue designs were, and still are, “pounced” onto the surface of the vessel before painting. Pouncing is a long used technique in which finely powdered charcoal or graphite is allowed to fall through small holes pierced through the outlines of a paper design, thereby serving as a guide for the painter and maintaining a relative standard in the component parts of Meissen table services.
On underglaze blue painting at Meissen see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 22-23.
J. Carswell, 1985, Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain and its impact on the Western World.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 244-245.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
coffeepot
date made
1730-1735
maker
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
blue (overall color)
monochrome, blue (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 4 3/4 in; 12.065 cm
overall: 5 1/16 in x 5 7/16 in x 3 7/16 in; 12.85875 cm x 13.81125 cm x 8.73125 cm
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
ID Number
CE*71.203
catalog number
71.203
accession number
297499
collector/donor number
402
subject
Domestic Furnishings
Art
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Manufacturing
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Hans C. Syz Collection

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