TITLE: Six knives
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Handle: L. 3¼" 8.3cm
OBJECT NAME: Knives
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1750
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1992.0427.18 a-f
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 289 a-f
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: None on the porcelain handles; on the silver blades, “H.M.” stamped, and St. Petersburg hallmarks of 1790.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1943.
These knives are 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.
With pistol-shaped handles painted with German flowers (deutsche Blumen) in overglaze enamel, there is in addition a molded basket weave pattern in relief forming a collar on the upper haft and butt end of the knives.
European flowers began to appear on Meissen porcelain in about 1740 as the demand for Far Eastern patterns became less dominant and more high quality printed sources became available in conjunction with growing interest in the scientific study of flora and fauna. For the German flowers Meissen painters referred to Johann Wilhelm Weinmann’s publication, the Phytantoza Iconographia (Nuremberg 1737-1745), in which many of the plates were engraved from drawings by the outstanding botanical illustrator Georg Dionys Ehret (1708-1770). Specialist gold painters applied ornament on the rims.
The Meissen manufactory operated under a system of division of labor. Flower painters were paid less than workers who specialized in figures and landscapes, and most painters received pay by the piece rather than a regular wage. In the late eighteenth century flower painters were even busier and consumer taste for floral decoration on domestic “china” has endured into our own time, but with the exception of a manufactory like Meissen most floral patterns are now applied by transfers and are not hand-painted directly onto the porcelain.
The handles were usually sold with a dinner service and the metal blades made to order by a silversmith local to the purchaser. Meissen flatware was often gilded.
On the painting division at Meissen see Rückert, R., 1990, Biographische Daten der Meißener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts, pp. 134-136.
On graphic sources for Meissen porcelain see Möller, K. A., “Meissen Pieces Based on Graphic Originals” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp.85-93; Cassidy-Geiger, M., 1996, ‘Graphic Sources for Meissen Porcelain’ in Metropolitan Museum Journal, 31, pp.99-126.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 396-397.
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