TITLE: Meissen underglaze blue stand
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: D. 8⅝" 22cm
OBJECT NAME: Stand
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: ca. 1730-1735
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1984.1140.04
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 235
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords and “K” in underglaze blue (possibly the underglaze blue painter Johann David Kretschmar (1697-1765).
PURCHASED FROM: Minerva Antiques, New York, 1943.
This stand 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 collector and 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 psychoanalysis 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.
Early in Meissen’s history Johann Friedrich Böttger’s team searched for success in underglaze blue painting in imitation of the Chinese and Japanese prototypes in the Dresden collections. Böttger’s porcelain, however, was fired at a temperature higher than Chinese porcelain or German stoneware. As in China, the underglaze blue was painted on the clay surface before firing, but when glazed and fired the cobalt sank into the porcelain body and ran into the glaze instead of maintaining a sharp image like the Chinese cobalt blue painted porcelains. The Elector of Saxony and King of Poland Augustus II was not satisfied with the inferior product. Success in underglaze blue painting eluded Böttger’s team until Johann Gregor Höroldt (1696-1775) appropriated a workable formula developed by the metallurgist David Köhler (1673-1723). Success required adjustment to the porcelain paste by replacing the alabaster flux with feldspar and adding a percentage of porcelain clay (kaolin) to the cobalt pigment. Underglaze blue painting became a reliable and substantial part of the manufactory’s output in the 1730s.
This stand held a small three-footed tureen and cover (the tureen was broken in transit), and has in addition to the underglaze blue pattern of flowers derived from a Chinese prototype, a band of overglaze enamel painting depicting four crayfish. Originally the crayfish were mistaken for lobsters.
Several versions of this model exist with different overglaze enamel patterns. For an example of the stand complete with its tureen see Maureen Cassidy-Geiger The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain1710-1750 (New York and London: The Frick Collection and D. Giles Ltd. 2008) p. 480.
Underglaze blue painting requires skills similar to a watercolor artist. There are no second chances, and once the pigment touches the clay surface it cannot be eradicated easily. Many of Meissen’s underglaze blue designs were, and still are, “pounced” onto the surface of the vessel before painting. Pouncing is a long used technique in which finely powdered charcoal or graphite is allowed to fall through small holes pierced through the outlines of a paper design, thereby serving as a guide for the painter. “Pouncing” also ensured a relative standard in patterns repeated on Meissen tea and dinner services.
On underglaze blue painting at Meissen see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 22-23.
J. Carswell, 1985, Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain and its impact on the Western World.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 228-229.
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