Meissen tureen and cover


MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue on an unglazed base; “28” impressed.

PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1942.

This tureen and cover is from 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 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 oval tureen, based on contemporary silver prototypes and decorated with applied flowers modeled and molded separately, has shadowed insects painted in overglaze polychrome enamels. Shadowed (ombrierte) insects and flowers , also known as woodcut flowers (Holzschnittblumen), were based on late sixteenth and seventeenth-century books made available to the Meissen manufactory, for example: Joris and Jacob Höfnagel’s Archetypa Studiaque Patris Georgii Hoefnagelii (1592), Maria Sybilla Merian’s Neues Blumenbuch (1675-1683) and Wenzel Hollar’s illustrations of flora and fauna. These virtuoso works depicting plants and insects were used as pattern books by artists and artisans in the making of luxury artifacts well into the eighteenth century. Imagery of this kind appealed to the educated elite who developed an intense interest in nature in the search to understand flora and fauna according to the early modern concept of a planned creation of the world. Insects were appreciated for their uncommon beauty and mysterious life cycles. Meissen painters copied the convention of depicting these insects with faint shadows, a conceit used by Joris Hoefnagel to trick the eye into seeing the creature as though it had just alighted on the surface of a page.

There are no handles on this tureen.

In 1728, the model maker Gottlieb Kirchner (b.1706) introduced a small device for making oval-shaped forms. Further improvements led to a more robust machine developed by the organ builder Johann Ernst Hähnel in 1740, which was granted a patent by the Saxon Elector and King of Poland, Augustus II (1670-1733)making larger scale vessels easier to model.

Production of a dinner service was a large undertaking as the conventions of eighteenth-century dining followed the French style in which guests were offered a wide choice of dishes served at the table in three or more courses. Depending on social status the table might have included silver or gold plate on which to present the dishes, supplemented by a porcelain service for individual place settings. The visual climax of the dinner was the dessert, the course in which specially designed vessels made in porcelain and glass supported artfully placed fruits, sweetmeats, jellies and creams, and for which the confectioners created elaborate table decorations made in sugar with the addition of porcelain figures and centerpieces.

On the Meissen dinner services and table decorations see Ulrich Pietsch “Famous Eighteenth-Century Meissen Dinner Services” and Maureen Cassidy-Geiger “The Hof-Conditorey in Dresden” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 94-105; 120-131.

Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 362-363.

Date Made: ca 1740-17451740-1745

Maker: Meissen Manufactory

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: Germany

See more items in: Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass, The Hans C. Syz Collection, Meissen Porcelain: The Hans Syz Collection, Art, Domestic Furnishings


Exhibition Location:

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1983.0565.50abAccession Number: 1983.0565Collector/Donor Number: 157Catalog Number: 1983.0565.50ab

Object Name: tureen

Physical Description: blue underglaze (overall color)hard-paste porcelain (overall material)polychrome enamel colors and gold (overall color)floral decoration in relief; insects painted in 2D (overall style)Measurements: overall: 9 in; 22.86 cmoverall: 9 1/16 in x 8 3/16 in x 7 3/4 in; 23.01875 cm x 20.79625 cm x 19.685 cm


Record Id: nmah_1280765

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