Meissen bowl

Meissen bowl

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MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; impressed Maltese cross in a circle (former's mark).
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1952.
PROVENANCE: Ex Coll. Dr. Max Strauss, Vienna, Austria.
This rinsing bowl is part of 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 collector and New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962), formerly of Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany. 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.
This bowl was once part of a tea and coffee service onto which were painted topographical scenes of Saxon places of interest. Featured on the bowl is the Königstein Fortress, built on the top of the rocky prominence in the center left of the image, which lies south of Dresden close to the river Elbe seen on the right. The fortress, which still exists, stands on an outcrop of sandstone sculpted over millenia by the waters of the Elbe, and it is situated in a region unique to this part of south-eastern Germany known as Saxon Switzerland, later to become a landscape fascinating to early nineteenth century painters like Caspar David Friedrich. The second painting depicts the Sonnenstein castle above the town of Pirna, which lies south-east of Dresden on the banks of the Elbe. In the sixteenth century Pirna flourished as a merchant town, and was a center for Protestant minorities seeking refuge from persecution in Catholic Central Europe. Bernardo Belotto/Caneletto (1721-1780), the nephew of Giovanni Antonio Caneletto (1697-1768), his pupil and assistant in Venice before leaving to study in Rome, painted several scenes of Pirna, but at the Meissen Manufactory both these images, painted in onglaze enamels, were after engravings executed in 1726 by Johann Alexander Thiele (1685-1752). Thiele painted many landscapes of Saxon sites, and among his pupils were artists who later developed what became known as the Dresden landscape school, active until well into the nineteenth century. The bowl is an example of Meissen’s use of sources from the work of contemporary artists, an exchange made possible through the increasing volume of prints supplied to the manufactory. (Marx, H., Die Schoensten Ansichten aus Sachsen: Johann Alexander Thiele (1685-1752) zum 250 Todestag, 2002).
The bowl has a sea-green ground color, and the images in the reserves are painted in polychrome enamels. The interior and exterior gold scrollwork and foot ring frame the piece. The interior has another miniature landscape that remains unidentified and is probably imaginary, surrounded by elaborate scrollwork in purple and iron-red enamels and gold. When part of a tea and coffee service, the bowl was used to take the last dregs of a beverage before a cup was rinsed and refilled. It is likely that a service of this kind was not much used in a practical sense, but put on display for admiration.
The sea-green ground color was one of several enamel color grounds developed at Meissen and applied to the surface of the glaze by flicking a brush loaded with enamel color onto a sticky vegetable gum applied over the glaze; reserves were masked out preserving the white surface for the painted image. The gum evaporated in the firing and the color fused into the softened glaze. Later ground laying techniques used powdered color applied with a pad, usually made of cotton fabric or suede, which had the advantage of producing a more even density and depth of color. In today's ceramic industry, solid color grounds are most often applied with automated screening techniques, or in studio with a spray gun powered by a compressor.
See a milk pot from this service in Pietsch, U., Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, 2011, p.379; for a sugar bowl see The Rita and Fritz Markus Collection of European Ceramics and Enamels, Museum of FIne Arts, Boston, 1984, p. 128.
Syz, H., Rückert, R., Miller, J. J. II., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 292-293.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1735
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Physical Description
ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
ploychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
topographical views (overall style)
overall: 3 in x 6 in; 7.62 cm x 15.24 cm
ID Number
collector/donor number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Hans C. Syz Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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