Meissen red stoneware tankard

MARKS: None.
PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.
PROVENANCE: Ex. Coll. F. Neuburg.
This tankard is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of European 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 tankard is 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 tankard has a silver hinge with a thumb-piece in the shape of a squirrel. The design on the surface of the tankard follows the style of contemporary glass-cutting techniques and was cut and incised with metal modeling tools while the clay was still moist but firm. After firing the piece was polished by glass polishers who undertook work for Meissen under Johann Friedrich Böttger’s direction.
Tankards originated in beer-drinking countries, and in early modern Europe the middle-class beer drinker had stoneware and tin-glazed tankards with tin or pewter mountings that were rich in various regional styles (see for example Gaimster, D.R.M., Hildyard, R.J.C., 1997, German Stoneware: Archaeology and Cultural History). Pewter and glass tankards were also common. Goldsmiths produced luxury vessels for the ruling class, and the Meissen red stoneware tankards were transitional objects emulating vessels made from silver, from ruby glass and from polished semi-precious stones mounted with gold and silver gilt.
On early Meissen stonewares see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 15-19
On Yixing stonewares see 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, pp. 26-27.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Meissen tankard
date made
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
monochrome, rust (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, stoneware, refined (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 8 1/4 in; 20.955 cm
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
Domestic Furnishings
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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