Meissen plate

MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; "20" impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: William Lautz, New York, 1958.
This plate 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 collector and New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962), formerly of Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany. 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 Saxony, 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.
Japanese porcelain prototypes had a greater impact on early Meissen porcelain than Chinese, a consequence of Augustus II Elector of Saxony’s preference for Japanese styles. This plate incorporates the two principle styles common to imported Japanese porcelains of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The Kakiemon style is represented in the top half of the plate with the so-called “red fox and yellow squirrel” pattern. In the lower half of the plate the diaper pattern represents the Imari style derived from Japanese textiles. The line that divides the two styles refers to a Japanese leaf-shaped dish in the Dresden porcelain collection with foliage and floral designs painted in underglaze blue.
Arita, in the Hizen province of Kyushu, the southernmost of the Japanese islands, was the center for the production of Japanese porcelains that includes Kakiemon and Imari. The province of Hizen has deposits of high grade kaolin suitable for porcelain production which began in about 1600. The name “Kakiemon” refers to the characteristic enamel painting from a kiln in Arita, attributed to a man called Sakaida Kakiemon who learned the secrets of enamelling from a Chinese potter. The story is unreliable, but Arita enamellers were active by the middle of the seventeenth century. “Imari” refers to enameled porcelains that range from lightly painted floral designs to the dense diaper or brocade pattern seen on the lower half of this plate. During the period of civil war in China, and for some time afterwards, there was a shortage of Chinese porcelain available for export to the West. The Dutch East India Company, based in Batavia (present day Jakarta in Indonesia) turned to Japanese porcelains, and by the 1640s the Japanese permitted them to establish a “factory” or warehouse on Deshima Island in Nagasaki harbor. In the 1670s Chinese trading vessels added to the distribution of Japanese porcelains to European ships trading out of South East Asian ports.
Japanese porcelain was more expensive than Chinese, which contributed to the decline in trade by the middle of the eighteenth century. Pieces were brought to Dresden by agents acting for the Elector Augustus from Dutch dealers in Amsterdam. Although not a discriminating collector, the high regard Augustus developed for Japanese porcelains is indicated by his decision to rebuild the palace housing his ceramic collection and change the name from the Dutch to the Japanese Palace. The Meissen manufactory began imitation of the Japanese Kakiemon style in about 1725, sometimes so faithfully that items were mistaken for Japanese originals and exploited as such by the French merchant Rodolphe Lemaire, who sold Meissen pieces in Paris at inflated prices claiming they were Japanese.
See Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750, 1990, pp. 45-47.
On the Hoym-Lemaire affair see Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern, Band I, and on the squirrel pattern see Band II, S. 297-309.
Syz, H., Rückert, R., Miller, J. J. II., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp.136-137.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
date made
ca 1740
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
Kakiemon/Imari/flying squirrel (overall style)
overall: 9 1/2 in x 9 1/2 in; 24.13 cm x 24.13 cm
place made
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Industry & Manufacturing
Domestic Furnishings
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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