Meissen figure of Dottore

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TITLE: Meissen figure of Dottore from the Italian Comedy
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 5½" 14 cm.
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 75.192
(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.
Dottore is a stock character in the Commedia dell’Arte, or Italian Comedy. His costume is that of a man with an academic degree, and he posed as a doctor of medicine or a lawyer, an alchemist or a philosopher. His character is that of a pompous individual of high social rank who loves wine and food, who enjoys the sound of his own voice but makes little sense in his speech, wandering from one topic to another. He is modeled here in the pose of an orator holding forth to his audience. His servant Harlequin, another stock character of the Italian Comedy, makes fun of his master’s foibles.
Johann Adolf II Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels likely commissioned a set of Italian Comedy figures for table decoration in 1743. The Meissen sculptors Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775), Johann Friedrich Eberlein (1695-1749), and Peter Reinicke (1711-1768) collaborated on the project, and Peter Reinecke modeled the Dottore figure. The Meissen sculptors based most of their Italian Comedy figures on engravings by François Joullain (1697-1778) in Louis Riccoboni’s (1676-1753) Histoire du Théâtre Italien (History of the Italian Theater) published in Paris in 1728. Born in Modena, Riccoboni moved to Paris and began to write his own plays in French based on the Commedia dell’Arte plots and stock characters of his native Italy. The plays were highly successful with Parisian audiences, and because often performed in public places the Italian Comedy reached a wide cross-section of society and influenced French painters, especially Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), who in turn influenced other French artists of the eighteenth century: Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater (1695-1736), Nicholas Lancret (1690-1743), François Boucher (1703-1770, Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806).
Origins of the Commedia dell’Arte are in dispute, but the form of the Italian comedy that emerged in the sixteenth century was fundamentally one that grew from the carnival, from popular story telling, rustic romps, and improvised street theater. The characters did not change much, only the plots varied, but the Italian Comedy’s wider influence through history can be seen in Punch and Judy marionettes, the work of mime artists, in the movies of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, in twentieth century modernist art and theater, and in contemporary situation comedies on TV.
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.
On the Commedia dell’Arte figures see Chilton, M., 2001, Harlequin Unmasked” the Commedia dell’ Arte and Porcelain Sculpture; Lawner, L., 1998, Harlequin on the Moon: Commedia dell’Arte and the Visual Arts.
See the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History:
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, Jefferson J. Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection pp. 446-447.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 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: 5 1/2 in; 13.97 cm
overall: 5 9/16 in x 3 9/16 in x 2 1/8 in; 14.12875 cm x 9.04875 cm x 5.3975 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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