Meissen chinoiserie sugar box and cover


TITLE: Meissen chinoiserie sugar box and cover

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: H. 2½" 6.3cm; L. 4½" 11.4cm

OBJECT NAME: Sugar box

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany

DATE MADE: 1723-1724


Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 1982.0796.02



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

MARKS: Crossed swords and “K.P.M.” (Königliche Porzellan Manufacktur)in underglaze blue; “4” in gold on box; “4C” in gold on cover (gold painter’s marks).

PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947. Ex. Coll. Mrs. Studd.

This sugar box 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 sugar box painted in onglaze enamels 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.

The box has a series of figures framed by foliage; a young boy stands near a steaming kettle holding something, perhaps a bird or animal in his hands, another man holds two sticks above a large bowl or a drum, two men sit at a table, one with a drinking vessel in his hand, the other preparing to rise with a fan held in his left hand. In another scene a man and a young boy kneel before a decorated pillar on which stands a bowl containing a branch of coral and a three-footed cauldron that possibly burns an aromatic substance; an auspicious substance for the Chinese, branching coral symbolizes longevity. On the cover a woman and a naked baby gesture towards each other in a garden setting framed by scrollwork in gold, iron-red enamel, and purple luster.

Many of the figures seen in the chinoiseries were based on drawings and prints by Johann Gregor Höroldt and other Meissen painters that were collected before the turn of the twentieth century by Georg Wilhelm Schulz and that became known as the Schulz Codex, and the woman reaching out to the baby can be found on plate 8 of a facsimile folio publication Das Meissener Musterbuch für Höroldt-Chinoiserien: Musterblätter aus der Malstube der Meissener Porzellanmanufaktur (Schulz Codex) Leipzig, 1978.

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 that began to appear in the second half of the seventeenth century describing the topography of China, its peoples and their customs, were a significant source of ideas for designers, artists, printmakers, and artisans. Chinese woodblock prints also began to reach the West and were attractive to collectors, designers, and artisans.

The sugar box belongs to the same service as the coffeepot (ID# 1982.0796.01) and it 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.

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 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

On gift-giving see Cassidy-Geiger, M., 2008, Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for European Courts 1710-1763.

Hans Syz, Jefferson Miller II, J., Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 64-67.

Date Made: ca 1723-17241723-1724

Maker: Meissen Manufactory

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: Germany

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: 1982.0796.02abCatalog Number: 1982.0796.02abAccession Number: 1982.0796Collector/Donor Number: 730ab

Object Name: box, sugar

Physical Description: porcelain (overall material)polychrome (overall color)chinoiserie (overall style)Measurements: overall: 2 1/2 in x 4 1/2 in; 6.35 cm x 11.43 cmoverall: 2 1/2 in x 4 7/8 in x 3 3/4 in; 6.35 cm x 12.3825 cm x 9.525 cm


Record Id: nmah_1415618

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.