Meissen red stoneware teapot

Description
MARKS: None.
PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1949.
This teapot and cover 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 teapot 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 teapot’s shape is taken from a silver prototype of contemporary European baroque design. The body of the teapot was press-molded in several parts to pick up the lambrequin motifs on the lower half. The female masks were added from separate molds, as were the scrolled handle and the spout in the form of an eagle’s head. The finial on the cover represents a globe artichoke often seen in baroque vessels of the period made in silver and ceramic, but here it is a plaster restoration. Beading around the foot of the teapot and on the outer edge of the cover is also a typical decorative element of silverware here transposed into a ceramic material. Bottger's red stoneware is not glazed as the dense material once fired is impervious to liquids.
Unlike many teapots made in ceramic materials this object does not represent a less expensive version of a silver vessel. It was a rare and costly item made in a material new to ceramic manufactures and a challenge to the men who worked with it. It took many skilled hands under the direction of Johann Friedrich Böttger to produce the red stonewares, and this teapot was probably based on a silver prototype designed by the court goldsmith, Johann Jacob Irminger (1635-1724).
The teapot was thought to be unique, but in a letter to Hans Syz, dated January 17, 1973, Dr. Ingelore Menzhausen reported that she came across an old photograph of the royal collection in the Johanneum in which she saw a similar teapot. With no recent evidence of its existence she presumed it was destroyed in World War II.
On Meissen's red stoneware see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 15-19.
On Yixing stoneware see Fang Lili, 2011, Chinese Ceramics, Cambridge University Press, p. 115, Zisha-the Taste of Tea; Lo, K.S., 1986, The Stoneware of Yixing from the Ming Period to the Present Day.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 22-23.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
teapot
date made
1710-1715
maker
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
monochrome, rust (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, stoneware, refined (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 4 7/8 in; 12.3825 cm
overall: 4 15/16 in x 6 1/4 in x 4 1/8 in; 12.54125 cm x 15.875 cm x 10.4775 cm
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
ID Number
1980.0024.01ab
accession number
1980.0024
catalog number
1980.0024.01ab
collector/donor number
840
subject
Domestic Furnishings
Art
The Hans C. Syz Collection
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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