Meissen lemon basket (from a plat de ménage)

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TITLE: Meissen lemon basket from a Plat de Ménage
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H. 10¾" 27.3cm
OBJECT NAME: Lemon basket
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1735-1740
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 63.263
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1941.
This lemon basket 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.
This lemon basket was part of a ‘plat de ménage’ that served as a centerpiece on the dining or banqueting table, also known as an ‘Epargne’ from the French épargner’ meaning to serve and often made in silver or silver gilt. The ‘plat de ménage’ held cruet sets containing various condiments like oil and vinegar, mustard, salt, spices, and sugar for guests to season their food during service in the French style of three main savory courses before the often spectacular dessert. Lemon baskets stood higher than the cruets, supported by figures like the two wrestling putti seen here were designed to attract the eye to the fruit piled within the basket or ‘shell.’ Lemons were a luxury in the eighteenth century and were meant to impress the diners. Imported from the Mediterranean countries or grown further north in conservatories and greenhouses, they were an important culinary item and flavoring for fish, meat and salads then as they are today.
The ‘plat de ménage’ gave Meissen modelers great scope for creating impressive centerpieces for major table services, but this lemon basket belongs to a less imposing model that was, nevertheless, in regular production through several versions in or even before 1735, and which continued into the early twentieth century with many variations. In August of 1735 Johann Joachim Kaendler recorded renewing and making higher a lemon ‘shell’ with two children standing on a rock (Die Arbeitsberichte des Meissener Porzellanmodelleurs Johann Joachim Kaendler 1706-1775, 2002, p.33).
This lemon basket has a quatrefoil shape with a band of relief-molded scrolls and strapwork on its exterior. The interior has East Asian flora painted in onglaze enamel with a bird perched on a stem. The coat of arms may belong to minor gentry or an entrepreneurial family with the name of Hopfner or Höpfner indicated by the entwined vines suggestive of hops.
Not many Meissen pieces from a table service with this pattern exist: a sugar box can be seen online at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, # C92&A-1929; see also Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Pozellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, p. 465.
On the ‘plat de ménage’ see Katherina Hantschmann, “The ‘Plat de Ménage’: The Centrepiece on the Banqueting Table” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 106-119
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 288-289.
Currently not on view
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
Physical Description
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
overall decoration fragment: 5/16 in x 1/4 in x 1/8 in; .8255 cm x .635 cm x .3175 cm
overall compote: 11 1/4 in x 8 in x 6 1/4 in; 28.575 cm x 20.32 cm x 15.875 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