TITLE: Meissen: Pair of pug dogs
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 4½" 11.4cm.
OBJECT NAME: Animal figures
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1740
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 66.168 A,B
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 60 A, B
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1941.
These animal figures 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 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.
Johann Joachim Kaendler(1706-1775) received a commission to model several pug dogs in 1740-1741, and in 1736 his work book records the re-modeling of 4 cane handles with pugs (“4 Stock Hacken mit Mops geandert…”). Pugs, or “Mops” in German, are an ancient breed known in China in at least 500 BCE, and a favored dog in the imperial court in about the 1st century. Pugs became popular lap dogs after they were introduced to Europe by Dutch merchants in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, especially in Holland and England. By the eighteenth century it was de rigeur for aristocratic men and women to own pugs with their even temperament and sociability towards humans. Several Meissen models exist with a woman holding a pug, and with pugs peeping out from under wide crinoline skirts.
It appears that one of the motives behind many of Kaendler’s commissions for pugs was an emblematic one for the Order of the Pug, a secret society modeled on Freemasonry. Pope Clement XII forbade Roman Catholics to join a Freemasons Lodge, and the Order of the Pug was a ruse to side-step his edict.
Meissen models of pugs are numerous and they are found in many public and private collections. Count Heinrich von Brühl, (1700-1763) who held high office in Saxony during the electoral rule of Frederick Augustus III (1696-1763), was very fond of pugs and his favorite dog was modeled by Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) in life size. In October 1741 Kaendler records modeling a new snuff box for Count Brühl with a pug represented on the lid (Die Arbeitsberichte des Meissener Porzellanmodelleurs Johann Joachim Kaendler 1706-1775, 2002, p.83).
Count Heinrich von Brühl became director of the Meissen manufactory in 1733. Under Friedrich August III (1696-1763) the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, von Brühl held high office, and in 1746 became the first individual to hold the position of Prime Minister in the State. He was immensely wealthy and lived extravagantly. Many commissions undertaken by the Meissen Manufactory between 1733 and the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1756 were for Count Brühl.
Meissen figures and figure groups are usually sculpted in special modeling clay and then cut carefully into separate pieces from which individual molds are made. Porcelain clay is then pressed into the molds and the whole figure or group reassembled to its original form, a process requiring great care and skill. The piece is then dried thoroughly before firing in the kiln. In the production of complex figure groups the work is arduous and requires the making of many molds from the original model.
The animals are painted in overglaze enamel colors and gold.
On the modeling and molding process still practiced today at Meissen see Alfred Ziffer, “‘…skillfully made ready for moulding…’ The Work of Johann Joachim Kaendler” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, pp.61-67; on Meissen’s pugs see pp. 307-308.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 478-479.
Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.