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Meissen coffee pot and cover

Meissen coffee pot and cover

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MARKS: Crossed swrods in underglaze blue; "17" impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: M.J.Ullmann, New York, 1948.
This coffeepot 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 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 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 pear-shaped coffeepot, reminiscent of metal prototypes, has a wishbone handle with a domed lid that has a pine kernel on the top. The insects and flowers painted on the pot are in the style of prints published after the original botanical and insect studies by the Flemish artist Joris (Georg) Hoefnagel (1542-1601). Joris Hoefnagel, who became court painter to the Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, employed his nineteen year old son Jacob to engrave the plates for the publication in 1592 of the Archetypa Studiaque Patris Georgii Hoefnagelii. After his father’s death Jacob Hoefnagel succeeded him as court painter to Rudolf II.
Prints after the Hoefnagel originals were so much in demand among artists and craftworkers, that the Nuremberg publishers purchased the copperplates and produced several further editions in the seventeenth century. The Nuremberg printmaker and publisher, Christoph Weigel (1654-1725), produced another edition in the early eighteenth century, which explains why a visual source from the late sixteenth century appears on Meissen porcelain nearly one hundred and fifty years later. (See Cassidy-Geiger, M., Graphic Sources for Meissen Porcelain, in Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 31, 1996, pp.99-126). However, when this coffeepot was made in 1740 the Hoefnagel style of trompe l’oeil was about to give way to the fashion for painting sprays of German flowers (deutsche blumen) on Meissen porcelain. This development indicated the beginnings of a preference for decorative motifs with local significance that struck a chord with an awakening sense of German national identity. By 1740, when this coffee pot was made, Meissen had a large, well-trained painting staff run by Johann Gregor Höroldt. Painters tended to specialize in figurative subjects, fruits and flowers, birds and animals, battle scenes, landscapes, harbor scenes, all of which were part of the repertoire by the middle of the eighteenth century. This coffeepot made in 1740 marks the transition from early modern sources of imagery to contemporary sources.
The seventeenth and eighteenth century expansion in the manufacture of consumer goods made more desirable and fashionable with ornamentation promoted the production of printed images and pattern books to which artisans could refer for their designs. The manufacturers of ceramics and printed textiles, interior painters and wallpaper makers, furniture makers, and embroiderers made use of these sources for surface decoration. When available, undecorated porcelain was taken into the workshops of professional enamel painters, the so-called Hausmaler or home painters. Amateur enamellers also painted white porcelain when they could acquire some.
On the history of the introduction of tea, coffee, and chocolate to Europe see Bowman, P.B., 1995, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea-drinking 1600-1850.
On ornament see Snodin, M.,Howard, M., 1996, Ornament: A Social History Since 1450, especially the chapter “Ornament and the Printed Image”.
Syz, H., Rückert, R., Miller, J. J. II., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 358-359.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1740
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Physical Description
ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels (overall color)
European flowers (overall style)
overall: 22 cm; 8 11/16 in
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
Industry & Manufacturing
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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