Meissen chinoiserie vase

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TITLE: Meissen chinoiserie vase
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 10⅞" 27.6cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1730-35
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 64.429
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: “AR” monogram in blue on unglazed base.
PURCHASED FROM: Blumka Gallery, New York, 1948.
This vase 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.
Meissen’s chinoiserie period began in the 1720s following the arrival from Vienna of Johann Gregor Höroldt (1696-1775) who brought with him superior skills in enamel painting on porcelain. His highly significant contribution to Meissen was to develop a palette of very fine bright enamel colors that had so far eluded the team of metallurgists at the manufactory, and that were new to onglaze enamel colors on faience and porcelain in general.
The hexagonal baluster-shaped vase has six chinoiseries framed by an arch painted in gold. The scenes depicted include the drinking of tea or rice wine, a discussion about a painting, a child playing a violin, and a game of blind-man’s-buff. Six more scenes are painted in purple on the section below that include two men who carry between them a small deer held in a rug, and in another scene a woman bathes a child in a small basin while another woman approaches carrying two babies in a basket on her head. A further six subjects are painted in polychrome on the section above the base with people amusing themselves drinking beverages and inspecting objects displayed by a vendor.
Items like this vase passed through many hands in Meissen’s painting division where artisans applied specialist skills in the enamel painting of figures, flowers and foliage, gold scrollwork, and the polishing of the gold after firing. The vase is painted in the style of Johann Gregor Höroldt. It was probably one of a pair, or a set of several pieces that comprised a garniture for ornamenting an interior feature like a mantel over a fireplace or shelf in a porcelain cabinet, which in the eighteenth century was a room devoted to a porcelain collection often hung with mirrors to reflect the objects and impress visitors. The “AR” mark on the base of the vase appears to have been introduced in 1723 and was still used in the early 1730s. It refers to porcelain belonging to Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (1670-1733), or items given by him as gifts to members of the nobility.
Chinoiserie is from the French Chinois (Chinese) and refers to ornamentation that is Chinese-like. The style evolved in Europe as Chinese luxury products began to arrive in the West in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries through the major European trading companies. Artisans were quick to incorporate motifs from these products into their work and to imitate their material qualities, especially the Chinese lacquers, embroidered silks, and porcelains, but their imitation was not informed by first-hand knowledge of China or an understanding of Chinese conventions in two-dimensional representation, and instead a fanciful European vision emerged to become an ornamental style employed in garden and interior design, in cabinet making, faience and porcelain manufacture, and in textiles. Illustrated books began to appear in the second half of the seventeenth century that describe the topography of China, its peoples and their customs, and these sources were copied and used by designers, artists, printmakers, and artisans including Johann Gregor Höroldt at Meissen. Application of the term chinoiserie to this class of Meissen porcelains is problematic, however, because Johann Gregor Höroldt developed ideas from a variety of sources and referred to the “chinoiseries” as “Japanese” (Japonische) figures, an early modern generic term for exotic artifacts and images imported from the East.
On Johann Gregor Höroldt see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 17-25.
On chinoiserie see Impey, O., 1997, Chinoiserie: the Impact of Oriental Styles on Western Art and Decoration; on the porcelain trade and European exposure to the Chinese product see the exhibition catalog by Emerson, J., Chen, J., Gardner Gates, M., 2000, Porcelain Stories: from China to Europe
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 72-75.
Currently not on view
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
Physical Description
blue (overall color)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
chinoiserie (joint piece style)
overall: 10 7/8 in; 27.6225 cm
overall: 10 3/4 in x 6 1/8 in x 6 1/8 in; 27.305 cm x 15.5575 cm x 15.5575 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession 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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