Meissen pitcher

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TITLE: Meissen pitcher with attached lid
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H. 7" 17.8cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1735-1740
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 71.200
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; four roundels impressed (former’s mark).
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art exchange, New York, 1948.
PROVENANCE: Ex Coll. Friedrich Girtanner, Zurich.
This pitcher 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 pitcher with its twig handle has silver gilt mounts with a hinged thumb piece in the shape of a leaf attached to the handle. Within a purple onglaze ground there are two white reserves on each side of the pitcher that carry the quail pattern, another reserve under the spout and four small ones on the lid have onglaze enamel painted flowers in the Japanese Kakiemon style.
The Meissen painters copied the quail pattern from Japanese export porcelain in the Dresden collection of Augustus II (1670-1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, who had a particular liking for Japanese porcelain in the Kakiemon style. Initially the French dealer Rodolphe Lemaire ordered the pattern from Meissen for the Parisian luxury market where he sold the items as Japanese originals in the Kakiemon style, where with high demand he could obtain a good price, especially as Japanese production declined in the 1720s. Following discovery of Lemaire’s deception in which he was aided by Count Carl Heinrich von Hoym, cabinet minister and former Saxon envoy in Paris, the pattern remained in production at Meissen and became one of the most popular imitations of Kakiemon prototypes.
In Japan the quail pattern was adapted from the school of painters associated with the master and court painter Tosa Mitsuoki (1617-1691) who was inspired by Chinese paintings of the Song Dynasty (907-1276). Pattern books based on the works of the Tosa and Kano schools were available to Japanese artisans in the mid-seventeenth century and the quail motif was in common use as an ornament for objects made in metal, lacquer, wood, and ceramics. Quail with millet and fall grasses were often depicted in paintings and on screens that referred to the beginning of the fall season with poetic associations of a melancholy nature.
On this pitcher the quail forage under a winter flowering prunus, and this version of the pattern seems to have been designed for Japan’s export market and not for the Japanese who would expect to see quail in association with fall foliage. In Europe it was at first assumed that these ground birds were partridges.
Kakiemon is the name given to very white (nigoshida meaning milky-white) finely potted Japanese porcelain made in the Nangawara Valley near the town of Arita in the North-West of the island of Kyushu. The porcelain bears a characteristic style of enamel painting using a palette of translucent colors painted with refined assymetric designs attributed to a family of painters with the name Kakiemon. In the 1650s, when Chinese porcelain was in short supply due to civil unrest following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchu in 1644, Arita porcelain was at first exported to Europe through the Dutch East India Company’s base on Deshima (or Dejima) in the Bay of Nagasaki. The Japanese traded Arita porcelain only with Chinese, Korean, and Dutch merchants through the island of Deshima, and the Chinese resold Japanese porcelain to the Dutch in Batavia (present day Jakarta), to the English and French at the port of Canton (present day Guangzhou) and Amoy (present day Xiamen). Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, obtained Japanese porcelain through his agents operating in Amsterdam who purchased items from Dutch merchants, and from a Dutch dealer in Dresden, Elizabeth Bassetouche.
On the quail pattern see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750, pp. 296-303, and Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S. 310-317. See Band I for a full discussion of the Hoym-Lemaire Affair.
On Kakiemon porcelain see Impey, O., Jörg, J. A., Mason, C., 2009, Dragons, Tigers and Bamboo: Japanese Porcelain and its Impact in Europe, the Macdonald Collection, and Takeshi Nagataki, 2003, Classic Japanese Porcelain: Imari and Kakiemon
For comparison see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 272-274; On colored grounds see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 267-274.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain adn Hausmalerei, pp. 138-139.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1735-1740
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
blue (overall color)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
metal (overall material)
kakiemon (joint piece style)
overall: 7 in; 17.78 cm
overall: 6 7/8 in x 5 5/16 in x 4 1/8 in; 17.4625 cm x 13.5255 cm x 10.4775 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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