Meissen chinoiserie coffeepot and cover


TITLE: Meissen chinoiserie coffeepot and cover

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)


OBJECT NAME: Coffeepot

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany

DATE MADE: 1725-1730


Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 1982.0796.01 a,b



(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)

MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “4” in gold (gold painter’s mark).

PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.

This coffeepot 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 coffeepot, with onglaze enamel painting in the chinoiserie style, belongs to the distinctive period in Meissen’s history that began in 1720 with the arrival from Vienna of Johann Gregor Höroldt (1696-1775). Höroldt brought with him superior skills in enamel painting on porcelain, and his highly significant contribution to Meissen was to develop a palette of very fine bright enamel colors that had so far eluded the team of metallurgists at the manufactory, and that were new to onglaze enamel colors on faience and porcelain in general. Höroldt and his team of painters used these colors to great effect in his singular vision of chinoiserie subjects, many of them based on drawings from what later became known as the Schulz Codex; a facsimile copy of the Schulz Codex can be seen in Rainer Behrend’s Das Meissener Musterbuch für Höroldt-Chinoiserien: Musterblätter aus der Malstube der Meissener Porzellanmanufaktur (Schulz Codex) Leipzig, 1978. Application of the term chinoiserie to this class of Meissen porcelains is problematic, however, because Johann Gregor Höroldt and his painters developed ideas from a variety of sources and Höroldt referred to the “chinoiseries” as “Japanese” (Japonische) figures, an early modern generic term for exotic artifacts and images imported from the East.

The chinoiserie scenes on the coffeepot are framed by scrollwork cartouches in gold, iron-red enamel, and purple luster. On one side of the coffeepot we see a woman carrying a tray of objects and attending to a small child, while on the other side a man seated in a rickshaw speaks to a companion while a servant waits to depart: for comparison with a teapot from the George B. McClellan Jr. collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art see On the cover individual chinoiserie figures attend to food preparation and to a display of vessels on a plinth. Items like this passed through many hands in Meissen’s painting division where artisans applied specialist skills in the enamel painting of figures, flowers and foliage, gold scrollwork, and the polishing of the gold after firing.

Chinoiserie is from the French Chinois (Chinese) and refers to ornamentation that is Chinese-like. The style evolved in Europe as Chinese luxury products began to arrive in the West in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries through the major European trading companies. Artisans were quick to incorporate motifs from these products into their work and to imitate their material qualities, especially the Chinese lacquers, embroidered silks, and porcelains, but their imitation was not informed by first-hand knowledge of China or an understanding of Chinese conventions in two-dimensional representation, and instead a fanciful European vision emerged to become an ornamental style employed in garden and interior design, in cabinet making, faience and porcelain manufacture, and in textiles. Illustrated books began to appear in the second half of the seventeenth century that describe the topography of China, its peoples and their customs, and these sources were copied and used by designers, artists, printmakers, and artisans including Johann Gregor Höroldt at Meissen.

The coffeepot belongs to the same service as the sugar box (ID# 1982.0796.02), and was possibly painted by Johann Gregor Höroldt. Meissen tea and coffee services of this early period were often sent as gifts to members of European royalty favored by the Saxon and Polish courts. They served as tokens of loyalty and affection to relatives in other royal houses with family connections to the Saxon House of Wettin.

For comparison there is a tankard with a similar chinoiserie subject in Hawes, S., Corsiglia, C., 1984, The Rita and Fritz Markus Collection of European Ceramics and Enamels, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, pp. 85-87.

On Johann Gregor Höroldt see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 17-25.

On the subject of royal and diplomatic gifts see Cassidy-Geiger, M., et al, 2008, Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for European Courts ca.1710-63.

On chinoiserie see Impey, O., 1997, Chinoiserie: the Impact of Oriental Styles on Western Art and Decoration; on the porcelain trade and European exposure to the Chinese product see the exhibition catalog by Emerson, J., Chen, J., Gardner Gates, M., 2000, Porcelain Stories: from China to Europe.

Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 60-63.

Date Made: ca 1725-17301725-1730

Maker: Meissen Manufactory

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: Germany: Saxony, Meissen

Subject: Manufacturing


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: 1982.0796.01abCatalog Number: 1982.0796.01abAccession Number: 1982.0796Collector/Donor Number: 739ab

Object Name: coffeepot

Physical Description: hard-paste porcelain (overall material)polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)chinoiserie (overall style)gold (cover color)polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)chinoiserie (joint piece style)Measurements: overall: 7 7/8 in; 20.0025 cmoverall: 7 7/8 in x 5 1/2 in x 4 5/16 in; 20.0025 cm x 13.97 cm x 10.9855 cm


Record Id: nmah_1415416

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.