Meissen milk pot

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TITLE: Meissen milk pot and cover
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H. 6⅛" 15.6cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1750-1760
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 67.1043.a,b
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “63” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: The Art Exchange, New York, 1961.
This milk pot 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.
The pear-shaped milk pot has a scene of a leopard attacking a horse ridden by a man in oriental apparel. A cub lies to the right foreground of the scene and the body of a man lies on the left. Scenes of animals fighting one another are on the reverse side. On the cover we can see a stag and a hunting dog. Painted for the most part in overglaze purple enamel there are a few accents in other colors with gold decoration on the handle, spout, and rim.
Animal subjects, especially hunting scenes, were specialist genres for many artists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Since the sixteenth century European infiltration into distant continents brought awareness of animal species that fed the desire to collect wild creatures, alive or dead, for the menageries and cabinets of curiosities of the educated and ruling elites. In Dresden, court entertainment included the bloody spectacle of watching wild animals fight until death, not at all unlike the spectacles of the ancient Roman world. Artists like Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) began to focus on the drama of animal and human encounters in which viewers could engage with the psychological pressure of danger through imagination. The images on this milk jug represent the struggle between predatory animals, a lion and a leopard on the reverse and an imminent struggle between the man on horseback and the leopard that perhaps killed a man in an attempt to protect her cub.
To present day sensibilities the grisly subjects represented here may seem out of place on a tea and coffee service associated with polite social rituals, but eighteenth-century sensibilities and interests were different in many respects from those of today. People of all classes took a full-bloodied interest in violent events, from the military battle to the public execution, and vicarious engagement took place through the visual arts, storytelling, popular theater and street spectacles. For the intellectually curious animals were objects of study in attempts to understand better the nature of human beings in relation to the wild.
The Meissen manufactory operated under a system of division of labor. Enamel painters specializing in landscapes, figures, and animals were paid more than those who painted flowers, fruits and underglaze blue patterns. Most painters received pay by the piece rather than a regular wage or salary. Ornamental gold painting was the responsibility of another specialist worker.
On the painting division at Meissen see Rückert, R., 1990, Biographische Daten der Meissener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts, pp. 134-136.
On animal imagery see Silver, L., "World of Wonder: Exotic Animals in European Imagery, 1515-1650", in Cuneo, P. F. (ed.), 2014, Animals and Early Modern Identity, pp.291-327.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 316-317.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1750-1760
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
blue (overall color)
monochrome, purple (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
overall: 6 1/8 in; 15.5575 cm
overall: 6 1/8 in x 5 1/4 in x 3 13/16 in; 15.5575 cm x 13.335 cm x 9.68375 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession 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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