Meissen tea kettle

Meissen tea kettle

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TITLE: Meissen tea kettle and cover
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H. 11½" 29.2cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1763-1764
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1992.0427.12
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords and dot on unglazed base; “83” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1942.
This tea kettle 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 the German States, 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 tea kettle became a standard item of the silver tea service in the early eighteenth century. It was used for holding hot water to refill the teapot and a spirit lamp burned in the base of the stand for this purpose. This porcelain tea kettle is based on a silver prototype and has a gilt bronze handle and stand. The large floral sprays painted in overglaze purple enamel are in the naturalistic style of the later eighteenth century. On the cover are emblems of the dance and of war. The raised forget-me-not pattern on the handle and spout was first modeled for a tea service by Johann Joachim Kaendler in 1740. Originally, the kettle probably had a porcelain stand, and the gilt bronze one seen here is a replacement.
In the eighteenth century tea, coffee, and chocolate was served in the private apartments of aristocratic women, usually in the company of other women, but also with male admirers and intimates present. In affluent middle-class households tea was usually served by a senior female member of the family, often in an informal gathering in the family’s private apartments. Tea and sugar were expensive items and kept under lock and key by the mistress of the house or a housekeeper. Coffee was more popular in Germany than tea and most services included a coffeepot and a teapot. Coffee houses were exclusively male establishments and operated as gathering places for a variety of purposes in the interests of commerce, politics, culture, and social pleasure.
European flowers began to appear on Meissen porcelain in about 1740 as the demand for Far Eastern patterns became less dominant and more high quality printed sources became available in conjunction with growing interest in the scientific study of flora and fauna. For the earlier, more formally correct style of German flowers (deutsche Blumen) Meissen painters referred to Johann Wilhelm Weinmann’s publication, the Phytantoza Iconographia (Nuremberg 1737-1745), in which many of the plates were engraved after drawings by the outstanding botanical illustrator Georg Dionys Ehret (1708-1770). The German flowers were superseded by mannered flowers (manier Blumen), depicted in a looser and somewhat overblown style based on the work of still-life flower painters and interior designers like Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699) and Louis Tessier (1719?-1781), later referred to as “naturalistic” flowers. Specialist gold painters applied ornament on the rims of the opening and on the spout.
Objects of this kind are also identified as punch pots, in which case the alcoholic contents for hot punch would be kept warm. The floral imagery on this object would suggest a tea kettle rather than a punch pot.
On graphic sources for Meissen porcelain see Möller, K. A., “Meissen Pieces Based on Graphic Originals” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp.85-93; Cassidy-Geiger, M., 1996, ‘Graphic Sources for Meissen Porcelain’ in Metropolitan Museum Journal, 31, pp.99-126.
On tea see Ukers, W. H., 1935, All About Tea; on the practice of drinking tea, coffee, and chocolate see Bowman, P.B., 1995, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea-drinking 1600-1850; See also Weinberg, B.A., Bealer, B.K., 2002, The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. On the coffee house see Ellis, M. 2011, The Coffee House: A Cultural History.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 400-401.
Currently not on view
Object Name
kettle, tea
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
European flowers and emblems of war and the dance (overall style)
gilt bronze handle (overall material)
overall: 11 1/2 in x 10 3/4 in x 8 in; 29.21 cm x 27.305 cm x 20.32 cm
ID Number
accession number
collector/donor number
catalog number
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Meissen Porcelain: The Hans Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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