TITLE: Meissen: Parts of a tea and coffee service
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Coffeepot: H.9¼" 23.5cm
Milk jug: H. 6" 15.3cm
Teapot: H. 4⅜" 11.1cm
Rinsing bowl: H. 3⅜" 8.5cm
Sugar bowl: H. 4" 10.2cm
Four cups and saucers: Cups: H. 1¾" 4.5cm; Saucers: D. 5¼" 13.3cm
OBJECT NAME: Tea and coffee service
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1763-1774
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1989.0715.05
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 13,14,15,16,17,18
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords with dot in underglaze blue; various impressed numbers (6,15,23,29,31,63).
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1941.
This cup and saucer is from a tea and coffee service in 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 Seven Years War of 1756-1763 brought Meissen’s production almost to a halt when Saxony was under Prussian occupation. In order to preserve the ‘secrets’ of porcelain manufacture much of the Meissen manufactory’s infrastructure was destroyed. The Saxony economy was severely weakened by the war which brought sales and commissions close to a standstill, and in addition Meissen faced growing competition from enterprises like Sèvres, Wedgwood, and the Thuringian manufactories. This tea and coffee service represents the awkward period of transition as Meissen sought to produce models that would appeal in a different political, cultural, and economic context.
The shapes seen in this service date from before the Seven Years War and the overglaze purple enamel painted subjects are based on prints in the style of Dutch landscape artists like Jan van de Velde II (1593-1641) popular in Meissen products of the 1740s and 1750s. Polychrome flourishes in sea-green, purple, blue, and yellow decorate the handles and finials. The service is outmoded in style at a time when the manufactory was at a low point following the war and the ensuing economic crisis. At the same time Meissen began to replace pre-war designs with those influenced by the French Sèvres porcelain manufactory.
The Meissen manufactory operated under a system of division of labor. Enamel painters specializing in landscapes, harbor, and river scenes with staffage (figures and animals) were paid more than those who painted flowers, fruits and underglaze blue patterns. Most painters received pay by the piece rather than a regular wage or salary.
On the post Seven Years War period at Meissen see Loesch, A., “Meissen Porcelain from 1763-1815” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp.34-51.
On the painting division at Meissen see Rückert, R., 1990, Biographische Daten der Meissener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts, pp. 134-136.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 350-351.
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