Meissen porcelain sugar jar and cover


TITLE: Meissen sugar jar from a tête à tête tea and coffee service

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

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

MEASUREMENTS: 1 5/8 in x 15 3/4 in x 10 1/4 in; 4.1275 cm x 40.005 cm x 26.035 cm


PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany

DATE MADE: 1805-1815

SUBJECT: The Alfred Duane Pell Collection

Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: The Alfred Duane Pell Collection


COLLECTOR/ DONOR: Alfred Duane Pell


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

MARKS: Crossed swords and a star in underglaze blue .

This sugar jar is from a Meissen tea and coffee service made for two people, and services of this kind for use at breakfast or for intimate meetings are known as têtê à têtê or cabaret services. Most interesting, however, are the enamel painted topographical images of Egyptian landscapes and antiquities, which date the service to the early nineteenth century after the publication of Baron Dominique Vivant Denon’s Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte (Travels in Lower and Upper Egypt) in 1802.

In 1798 Denon traveled to Egypt as a member of Napoleon’s large team of scientists, engineers, artists, and scholars appended to the general’s army of about 20,000 troops who occupied Lower Egypt and chased the Mamluk Turks, then rulers of the country, into Upper Egypt. Known as the savants, these men studied and recorded all that they saw of both ancient and modern Egypt. As an artist, art collector, and antiquarian, Denon marveled at the sites of Egyptian antiquity and recorded in drawings everything that he could get down on paper while traveling with a battalion of the French army into Upper Egypt. His drawings, later engraved and published in the Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte are still a valuable record of Egypt’s ancient sites before the archaeological excavations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the construction of the first and second Aswan Dams.

Napoleon’s campaign was not a military success, his fleet destroyed by the British at the Battle of Abū Qīr Bay near Alexandria on August 1, 1798, thus isolating the French army on land in Egypt and restoring British control over the Mediterranean Sea. His team of scientists, engineers and artists, however, were undoubtedly successful in bringing new knowledge of ancient Egypt to Europe and America. Denon’s Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte was a very successful publication and the spirited account of his experiences was soon translated into English and other languages. It is likely that the enamel paintings on this tea and coffee service were commissioned privately by someone who owned a copy of the Voyage. When compared with the original drawings there are differences in detail and composition, which was not unusual, but for the most part the Meissen painters were faithful to Denon’s record, which was not in color, unlike the rich polychrome enamels seen on the porcelain.

The parts of the service are molded in the severe, but nevertheless ornate, neoclassical style fashionable in designs of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With its origins in France artists and designers who worked in the neoclassical style took inspiration from ancient Roman and Greek art and architecture. Neoclassicism in its most ideologically pure form expressed a taste for elevated, didactic, and moral subjects in rejection of the court culture of the old regime prior to the French Revolution. In the German States, and especially in Berlin, the neoclassical style was favored by designers and architects.

On the sugar jar we see the remains of a temple portico with eight columns and a winged sun disk dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Hathor, a structure dated to the Greek Ptolemaic period in Egypt, and in the later Roman colonial period associated with the goddess Isis. Denon identified the monument as “Contra Latopolis”, opposite Latopolis, the town of the Lates fish (lates was the Greek name for Nile perch). Situated on the east bank of the Nile Contra Latopolis faced the town of Latopolis, or Esne, site of a larger temple, part of which stands today. The smaller temple of Contra Latopolis was destroyed in 1828 to make way for a modern building. Baron Denon’s original drawing of the temple portico records another site that was lost in the nineteenth century.

Continuous habitation on the island of Elephantine (Jazīrat Aswan) makes it difficult to identify the site of the painting on the other side of the sugar pot. Elephantine is an island in the river Nile opposite the town of Aswan in the far south of Egypt, and in ancient Nubia it was a center for trade with sub-Saharan Africa, and the southernmost point for Egyptian border control. Enchanted by the site and its monuments, Baron Denon wrote: “The Isle of Elephantina became, at the same time, my country house, my palace of delight, observation, and research…. I never passed hours more deliciously occupied than those which I devoted to my solitary walks at Elephantina;” He had the place to himself after French troops drove the inhabitants out of their homes. Today, archaeological excavations and reconstruction have returned some of the ancient monuments to the site.

This service belongs to the Alfred Duane Pell collection in the National Museum of American History. Before Pell (1864-1924) became an Episcopalian clergyman quite late in life, he and his wife Cornelia Livingstone Crosby Pell (1861-1938) travelled widely, and as they travelled they collected European porcelains, silver, and furniture. Pell came from a wealthy family and he purchased the large William Pickhardt Mansion on 5th Avenue and East 74th Street in which to display his vast collection. The Smithsonian was one of several institutions to receive substantial bequests from the Reverend Pell which laid the foundation for their collections of European applied arts.

Bob Brier, Napoleon in Egypt, exhibition catalog Hillwood Art Museum, Brookville, New York: 1990.

Bob Brier, Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

James Stevens Curl, Egyptomania, the Egyptian Revival: a Recurring Theme in the History of Taste, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1994.

Egyptomania: Egypt in Western Art 1730-1930, exhibition catalog, National Gallery of Canada with the Louvre, Paris, 1994.

Paul V. Gardner, 1956, 1966 (rev. ed.), Meissen and other German Porcelain in the Alfred Duane Pell Collection.

Date Made: 1805-1815

Maker: Meissen Manufactory

Location: Currently not on view

See more items in: Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass, Industry & Manufacturing, Art, Domestic Furnishings


Exhibition Location:

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: CE.P-896EabCatalog Number: P-896EabAccession Number: 225282

Object Name: sugar jarSugar jar (missing its cover)bowl, sugar

Physical Description: black (overall color)blue (overall color)polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)Measurements: overall sugar bowl: 2 1/2 in x 2 3/4 in; 6.35 cm x 6.985 cmoverall smaller cover fragment: 1 in x 2 7/8 in x 1 in; 2.54 cm x 7.3025 cm x 2.54 cmoverall larger cover fragment: 1 3/4 in x 3 in x 2 in; 4.445 cm x 7.62 cm x 5.08 cm


Record Id: nmah_577362

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