Meissen figure of Scaramouche


TITLE: Meissen figure of Scaramouche

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: 5¼" 13.3 cm.


PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany


SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection


Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 64.440



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


PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1943.

This figure 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.

Peter Reinicke (1715-1768) modeled this figure in about 1743 to 1745. There are two versions of Scaramouche and it is not clear in which order they were modeled. This figure belongs to the Duke of Weissenfel’s series.

Scaramouche, one of the stock characters of the Italian Comedy troupe, was a rascally and unreliable servant who got himself into trouble through his own acts of mischief. He got himself out of trouble by ensnaring an unwitting and innocent individual who then fell victim to the fury of the characters that Scaramouche himself had injured. Scaramouche is seen here in a characteristic dancing pose, and dance was an important part of the Italian Comedy performances.

Johann Adolf II Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels commissioned a set of Italian Comedy figures for table decoration in 1743. The Meissen sculptors Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775), Johann Friedrich Eberlein (1695-1749), and Peter Reinicke (1711-1768) collaborated on the project. The Meissen sculptors based their Italian Comedy figures for the Duke on engravings in Louis Riccoboni’s (1676-1753) Histoire du Théâtre Italien (History of the Italian Theater) published in Paris in 1728. Born in Modena as Luigi Riccoboni, he followed his father onto the stage, but was not satisfied with the improvised and chaotic nature of the Italian comedy. He moved to Paris and started his own company which faltered at first until Riccoboni began to write his own more refined plays in French based on the Commedia dell’Arte comedic plots and stock characters.

Riccoboni’s plays were highly successful with Parisian audiences, and because often performed in public places the Italian Comedy reached a wide cross-section of society. The subject of the Italian comedy characters influenced painters, especially Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), who in turn influenced other French artists of the eighteenth century; his student Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater (1695-1736), Nicholas Lancret (1690-1743), François Boucher (1703-1770, Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). Ten of the engravings used by the Meissen sculptors were by the Parisian engraver, print-seller, dealer and auctioneer, François Joullain (1697-1778) and published in Riccoboni’s Histoire du Théâtre Italien. Origins of the Commedia dell’Arte are in dispute, but the form of the Italian comedy that emerged in the sixteenth century was fundamentally one that grew from the carnival, from popular story telling, rustic romps, and improvised street theater. The characters did not change much, only the plots varied, but the Italian Comedy’s influence may be seen still in Punch and Judy marionettes, the work of mime artists, in the movies of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, in twentieth century modernist art and theater, and in situation comedies on TV.

The Meissen Italian Comedy figures were used for decorating the dessert table for official and festive banquets. They formed part of the design in conjunction with decorations sculpted in sugar and other materials to create an elaborate display for the final course of the meal. The practice of sculpting in sugar, marzipan, butter, and ice for the festive table goes back for many centuries, and porcelain figures were a late addition to the tradition.

The figure is painted in overglaze enamel colors and gold.

On the Saxon court confectionary see Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, 'The Hof Conditorey in Dresden: Traditions and innovations in Sugar and Porcelain", in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, pp.121-131.

See also Ivan Day, 'Sculpture for the Eighteenth-Century Garden Dessert', in Harlan Walker (ed.) Food in the Arts: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking, 1999.

On the Italian Comedy see Meredith Chilton, 2001, Harlequin Unmasked: The Commedia dell’Arte and Porcelain Sculpture; Lawner, L., 1998, Harlequin on the Moon: Commedia dell’Arte and the Visual Arts, and also On the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History see

Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 448-449.

Date Made: ca 17451745

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:

Credit Line: Dr. Hans Syz

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: CE.64.440Catalog Number: 64.440Accession Number: 257835Collector/Donor Number: 220

Object Name: figurine

Physical Description: polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)Measurements: overall: 5 1/4 in; 13.335 cmoverall: 5 1/4 in x 3 1/8 in x 2 1/2 in; 13.335 cm x 7.9375 cm x 6.35 cm


Record Id: nmah_574770

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