Meissen bowl and cover

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PURCHASED FROM: Hans Backer, London, England, 1947.
This covered bowl is part of 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 dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychoanalysis 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 first pieces of Meissen porcelain were made from white clay (kaolin, a hydrous aluminum silicate) found at Colditz in Saxony, which was then mixed with alabaster previously heated and crushed to a fine powder (calcined). Then kaolin found at Aue in Saxony improved the strength and quality of the material, but the alabaster used to lower the melting point of the clays gave the early Meissen porcelains a slightly yellow cast. The problem was not resolved until feldspar (aluminum silicate) replaced alabaster (calcium sulphate) as a flux in the mid 1720s to 1730s, but better understanding of the firing cycle, with an atmosphere in the kiln chamber starved of oxygen, could also contribute to improved color in the material by turning iron impurities from yellow to gray-blue.
This covered bowl was made from the early Böttger porcelain. You can see distortion where the rim of the bowl and the outer edge of the lid meet. The lid and bowl were fired separately, otherwise they would have stuck to each other in high temperatures, and the lid was too heavy for the bowl to support its weight without danger of collapse. In these early Meissen pieces such distortion was common, and some vessels display more extreme evidence with severe cracks and slumped forms. The high temperature required to vitrify porcelain requires special supports to prevent distortion during firing, and it is critical to design the shape of the vessels to ensure the porcelain body stays within the limits of its inherent strength. Many of the early Meissen pieces, designed by the court goldsmith, Johann Jacob Irminger (1635-1724), make perfect sense if made in metal, but were not always suitable for porcelain.
A potter threw the bowl and lid on the wheel, shaping the two sections by trimming excess porcelain away when the clay hardened enough to hold its shape. Later, the Meissen potters shaped vessels into or onto plaster of Paris molds using templates to form the interior or exterior profiles. This technique allowed for standard shapes and sizes in the production of table services.The floral decoration, inspired by Japanese Imari porcelain imported by Dutch merchants during the seventeenth century, was modeled by hand and applied to the bowl and lid separately. Before the development of an enamel color palette at Meissen, unfired green and red lacquer and gold was applied to some of the early porcelains. In this piece you can see traces of these colors on the rose sprays, most of which has worn off the surface with passage of time.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 48-49.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1713-1720
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
Physical Description
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
overall: 12.4 cm; 4 7/8 in
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
Credit Line
Hans C. Syz Collection
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Industry & Manufacturing
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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