Meissen Böttger porcelain sugar box (part of a tea service)



PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.

These pieces from a tea service are in 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 collector and 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 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.

January 15, 1708, is the date for the earliest known recipe for white hard-paste porcelain, but it took five more years of experiments and trials to develop a product for the market. So-called Böttger porcelain denotes the early years of production from 1713 until Böttger’s death in 1719, but versions of his hard-paste porcelain continued in use until the 1730s.

In 1717, the inspector of the Meissen manufactory, Johann Melchior Steinbruck (1673-1723), recorded the introduction of a new type of decoration. This was the purple or pink luster developed by Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) for his white porcelain, and it was the only successful color breakthrough during his working life at Meissen. Preparation of the color required the use of gold, so it was used sparingly, but continued in production until the 1730s.

These parts of a tea service, painted with enamels and gold as well as the purple luster, represent a rare example of Böttger porcelain decorated with these colors before the arrival of the miniature painter Johann Gregor Höroldt (1696-1775) in 1720. The enamels and the gold on the tea service were fired onto the porcelain and not cold painted, probably at the workshop of the Dresden goldsmith Johann Georg Funke. Firing enamel colors onto porcelain made the decoration more durable, and the manufactory was under considerable pressure from the directors and the Elector of Saxony to produce a range of enamels suitable for porcelain and to achieve a stable underglaze blue pigment.

Derived from contemporary silver vessels the shape of the teapot is common to other Meissen tea services manufactured in the 1720s (see for example ID number 74.130 a,b), so too is the sugar box (ID number 76.368 a,b). The interiors of the tea bowls are gilded.

Tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar were luxury products for early eighteenth-century consumers, and a tea service like this one was affordable only to the elites of European society. Many of the Meissen tea and coffee services of this early period were sent as diplomatic and royal family gifts; they were little used and have survived three hundred years because they were kept as items for decorative display in whole or in part.

On Böttger’s purple luster see

On gift giving see Cassidy-Geiger, M., 2008, Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for European Courts 1710-1763

Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp.52-53.

Date Made: 1717-1720

Maker: Meissen Manufactory

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: Germany: Saxony, Meissen

See more items in: Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass, The Hans C. Syz Collection, Art, Domestic Furnishings


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Hans C. Syz Collection

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: CE.66.175abCatalog Number: 66.175abCollector/Donor Number: 664Accession Number: 270694

Object Name: box, sugar

Physical Description: ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)gilt (overall production method/technique)Measurements: overall: 3 in x 4 1/2 in; 7.62 cm x 11.43 cm


Record Id: nmah_574985

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