Meissen cup and saucer


TITLE: Meissen cup and saucer

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: Cup: 1⅞" 4.8cm; Saucer: 5½" 14cm

OBJECT NAME: Cup and saucer

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany



Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 1983.0565.09 ab



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

MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “4” impressed on cup; “2” impressed on saucer.

PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1947. Ex. Coll. W.M. Moseley.

This cup and saucer 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 cup and saucer have basket weave relief borders in the Sulkowsky pattern. The onglaze enamel painted design in the Kakiemon style features a crane in flight and a winged mythical beast or dragon, loosely resembling a tiger known variously as the “Korean lion”, the “flying dog”, or “winged dragon. A tree peony rises from the ground behind grasses and a fern, and a cockchafer type of beetle sits underneath the fern. Characteristic of Japanese Kakiemon designs the individual motifs are out of natural scale, and this is not uncommon on Arita porcelains made for the European export market under the influence of the Dutch.

It is likely that the prototype for the Meissen pattern was of Chinese origin with the winged animal based on the Chinese ch’i-lin (somewhat akin to a unicorn). The German physician, envoy, and traveler, Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), wrote in his History of Japan “Of the Animals of this Country some are merely Chimerical, not existing in Nature, nor invented by the Japanese themselves, but borrow’d from their Neighbours the Chinese.” While the Japanese adopted mythical creatures from China and Korea they also introduced more playful, supernatural, and comic aspects to animals both real and imaginary during the rapid development of literary culture in the early Edo period of the seventeenth century. Japanese tales and legends associated with real animals like foxes (kitsune) and Japanese wild dogs (tanuki) remain popular today. Cranes were, and still are, birds with significant symbolic meaning in China and Japan.

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 the island of Dejima in the Bay of Nagasaki. The Japanese traded Arita porcelain only with Chinese, Korean, and Dutch merchants 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.

For a detailed account of the Kakiemon style and its European imitators see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750. On Kakiemon see also Takeshi Nagataki, 2003, Classic Japanese Porcelain: Imari and Kakiemon

On the likely Chinese model for this pattern see Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Pozellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S.370. For another example of this pattern see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, p.276.

On the Japanese supernatural see Foster, M.D., 2009, Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai.

Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 146-147.

Date Made: ca 17401740

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: 1983.0565.09abCatalog Number: 1983.0565.09abAccession Number: 1983.0565Collector/Donor Number: 746ab

Object Name: cupsaucer

Physical Description: hard-paste porcelain (overall material)polychrome enamels (overall color)Kakiemon from Chinese sources (overall style)blue (cup color)blue (saucer color)polychrome (component surface decoration color name)mythological creatures (joint piece description of decoration)mythological creatures (overall description of decoration)ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (cup material)ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (saucer material)Measurements: cup: 1 7/8 in; 4.7625 cmsaucer: 5 1/2 in; 13.97 cmoverall cup: 2 in x 4 1/8 in x 3 5/16 in; 5.08 cm x 10.4775 cm x 8.4455 cmoverall saucer: 1 1/8 in x 5 5/16 in; 2.8575 cm x 13.5255 cm


Record Id: nmah_1415479

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