Meissen cup and saucer: one of a pair


TITLE: Meissen: Pair of cups and saucers

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: Cups: H.2⅝" 6.7cm; Saucers: D. 5⅜" 13.7cm

OBJECT NAME: Pair of cups and saucers

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany

DATE MADE: 1750-1760



Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 1989.0715.04 Aab, Bab

COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 207 Aab, 208 Bab


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

MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “63” impressed on saucer A; “17” impressed on saucer B.

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

This pair of cups and saucers 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.

In the work of French artist Jean Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) we see the development of the fêtes galantes based on the outdoor entertainments in private and public pleasure parks that represent youthful elite society removed from the conventions of court protocol. Watteau’s works depicted conversational, theatrical, and amorous encounters set in idealized pastoral surroundings where the fleeting nature of temporal pleasures hangs over the delicately poised gatherings, and they struck a chord with living protagonists.

In the early 1740s the manufactory began to acquire a collection of copperplate engravings on which the Meissen painters based their Watteauszenen (Watteau scenes), and they became so much in demand that eleven enamel painters were appointed to specialize in these subjects. In this example figures like those seen in the work of Watteau and his followers dance or play musical instruments framed by cartouches of foliage and trellis work.

The figure on the saucer (207 Aab) of a solitary man playing a guitar can be seen on another item in the Hans Syz Collection, a coffeepot (ID number 1983.0565.46), but there the man is not alone, and stands serenading a seated woman in a parkland setting. The subject has its origins in a painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) titled L’Enchanteur in which the young man playing a guitar serenades and attempts to engage the interest of two women seated in a park while another male figure stands in the shadows behind them. The subject was engraved by Benoît Audran II (1698-1772). There is a Meissen saucer with the same subject in the collection of Constance I. and Ralph H. Wark at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida. See Ulrich Pietsch, Early Meissen Porcelain: The Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum and Art Gallery (The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and D.Giles Ltd: Jacksonville FL and London UK, 2011) p.415.

The Meissen manufactory operated under a system of division of labor. Enamel painters specializing in landscapes, with staffage (figures and animals) and Watteau scenes 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. Ornamental gold painting was the work of another specialist in the painting division.

On Antoine Watteau see Thomas Crow, 1985, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris, chapter II, ‘Fêtes Galantes and Fêtes Publiques’, pp. 55-75. See also Sheriff, M. D., (ed.) 2006, Antoine Watteau: Perspectives on the Artist and the Culture of His Time.

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. 346-347.

Date Made: ca 1750-17601750-1760

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: 1989.0715.04AabAccession Number: 1989.0715Catalog Number: 1989.0715.04AabCollector/Donor Number: 207

Object Name: cupsaucer

Physical Description: watteau figure (overall description of decoration)blue (cup color)blue (saucer color)hard-paste porcelain (overall material)polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)Watteau scenes (overall style)Measurements: cup: 2 5/8 in; 6.6675 cmsaucer: 5 3/8 in; 13.6525 cmoverall cup: 2 11/16 in x 3 7/8 in x 2 7/8 in; 6.82625 cm x 9.8425 cm x 7.3025 cmoverall saucer: 1 1/8 in x 5 1/4 in; 2.8575 cm x 13.335 cm


Record Id: nmah_1436909

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