Meissen figure: the quack doctor

Meissen figure: the quack doctor

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TITLE: Meissen figure group of the quack doctor with a monkey
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 5½" 15.3 cm
OBJECT NAME: Figure group
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 74.140
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue beneath a small glazed patch on bottom of base.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1947.
This figure 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 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.
Modeled by Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775) and Peter Reinicke (1711-1768), this version of the Quack Doctor comes from Marcellus Laroon’s (1653-1702 the Elder) Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life, a set of engravings published in 1687 by Pierce Tempest (1653-1712). Laroon’s drawings of the vendors, entertainers, charlatans, and rogues who inhabited the commercial heart of London in the late seventeenth century is a rich compendium of urban street life when the city was the foremost financial, marketing, and maritime center in Europe.
The model copies quite faithfully Laroon’s “Mountabanck” holding a vial in his raised hand as he attempts to persuade an audience to buy. It is thought that Laroon’s image is a representation of Hans Buling, a Dutchman who lived in London and became a notorious street performer. Images of mountebanks, charlatans or quack doctors were common by the late seventeenth century, often in the form of cheap broadsides printed from illustrated woodcuts with a ballad underneath. It was usual for these characters to perform on a makeshift stage with a monkey and a “Merry Andrew”, a clown or stooge often dressed like a Harlequin. The character of the quack doctor is not far removed from Dottore of the Italian Comedy. The Meissen version of the Quack Doctor was a popular figure and there are many copies in existence today.
Marcellus Laroon the Elder worked as a costume painter in the studio of the prolific portrait artist Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723). Published in 1720, the ballad called The Infallible Doctor is a rare example of a quack doctor’s patter that might apply to this figure. On ballads see the Bodleian Library website
Meissen figures and figure groups are usually sculpted in special modeling clay and then carefully cut into separate pieces from which individual molds are made. Porcelain clay is then pressed into the molds and the whole figure or group reassembled to its original form, a process requiring great care and skill. The piece is then dried thoroughly before firing in the kiln. In the production of complex figure groups the work is arduous and requires the making of many molds from the original model.
The group is painted in overglaze enamel colors and gold.
On street traders see Shesgreen, S., 1990, The Criers and Hawkers of London: Engravings and Drawings by Marcellus Laroon.
On the modeling and molding process still practiced today at Meissen see Alfred Ziffer, “‘…skillfully made ready for moulding…’ The Work of Johann Joachim Kaendler” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, pp.61-67.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 446-447.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1750-1760
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels (overall color)
street cryer (overall style)
overall: 6 in; 15.24 cm
overall: 6 in x 3 1/2 in x 3 5/16 in; 15.24 cm x 8.89 cm x 8.41375 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
collector/donor 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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