TITLE: Meissen coffee pot and cover (Hausmaler)
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 8½" 21.6 cm.
OBJECT NAME: Coffee pot and cover
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1740-1750, Meissen
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 76.379 a,b
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 897 a,b
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “B” in underglaze blue; “N” incised.
PURCHASED FROM: B. & M. Segal, Basel, Switzerland, 1952.
This coffeepot 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 Germany, 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 coffee pot and cover was made in the Meissen manufactory but painted outside by an independent artist. Hausmalerei is a German word that means in literal translation ‘home painting’, and it refers to the practice of painting enamels and gold onto the surface of blank ceramics and glass in workshops outside the manufactory of origin. Beginning in the seventeenth century the work of the Hausmaler varied in quality from the outstanding workshops of Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland), to the less skilled efforts of amateur artists. Early Meissen porcelain was sought after for this purpose, and wealthy patrons of local enameling and gilding workshops purchased undecorated porcelain, often of out-moded or inferior quality, which was then painted with subjects of their choice. Hausmalerei was at first acceptable to the early porcelain manufactories like Meissen and Vienna, and Meissen sent blank porcelain to Augsburg workshops for decoration, but as the market became more competitive they tried to eradicate the practice. It was a temptation for Meissen porcelain painters to take on extra work as Hausmaler to augment their low pay, and the manufactory cautioned or imprisoned them if Hausmalerei activity was suspected or discovered.
When Hausmalerei became increasingly troublesome to the porcelain manufactories they took measures to prevent it through the application of marks and control of sales. Nevertheless, sub-standard pieces and outmoded models still reached the hands of the Hausmaler. This coffee pot illustrates one of the methods by which the independent enamel painters managed to keep their practice active. Before it left the Meissen manufactory this coffee pot was painted in underglaze blue with the “rock and bird” pattern and with gold over the glaze. The Hausmaler F.J. Ferner, who ran a workshop
in Thuringia, but about whom little is known, used the white spaces between the patterns to paint European subjects in enamel colors. In this coffee pot he inserted a European pastoral scene of a sleeping shepherd between the oriental style “rock and bird” pattern.
Underglaze blue is a pigment made from cobalt oxide that is applied to the surface of the porous “biscuit-fired” porcelain before the glaze firing. At first, the Meissen manufactory struggled to find success in underglaze blue painting in imitation of Chinese and Japanese prototypes because cobalt oxide is a powerful flux and runs easily blurring the pattern under the glaze. After exhaustive trials that involved a change to the cobalt pigment and the porcelain body this highly successful form of decoration entered production at Meissen in the mid 1720s. Cobalt was mined locally in the mineral rich Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) on the Saxon border with Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic.
On Hausmaler see Ulrich Pietsch, 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: The Wark Collection from The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 43-46; Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts, Volume 1.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 558-559.
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