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Meissen plate: Swan Service

Meissen plate: Swan Service

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TITLE: Meissen plate (Swan Service pattern)
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: D. 12¼" 31.1cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1737-1740
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1979.0120.06
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue’ “//” incised on foot ring.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1947.
This plate 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.
This is an undecorated example of a plate from the Swan Service modeled by Johann Joachim Kaendler and Johann Gottfried Eberlein over a period of five years (1736-1741) for the Saxon cabinet minister, Count Heinrich von Brühl (1700-1763). Brühl was a powerful figure during the reign of the Saxon Elector and King of Poland Augustus III, and in his official capacity a dinner service for a large company of dignitaries and diplomatic representatives was a requirement and also a commercial endeavor to stimulate desire for ownership of Meissen porcelain among the European ruling elite. The Swan Service was the most impressive achievement in the production of baroque porcelain tableware, and with the addition of a coffee, tea, and chocolate service it consisted of over three thousand pieces. Johann Joachim Kaendler’s arrival at Meissen in 1733 led to the vigorous development of porcelain sculpture applied to the production of festive tableware. On royal occasions the company dined off gold or silver, but in his role as cabinet minister Count Brühl entertained guests in the absence of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland Augustus III, and on these occasions the Swan Service was in use.
The Swan Service incorporates several themes based on the natural and mythological world of water with stylized relief molding reminiscent of a scallop shell forming the background on both flat and hollow vessels. The pair of swans seen on this plate, derived from a print by the seventeenth-century engraver Wenceslaus Hollar, form a unifying motif for the service as a whole. A heron stands in the reeds behind the swans and another heron flies overhead, a composition also based on engravings by Hollar.
A large tureen from this service in the porcelain collection of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden has a figure of the nymph Galatea riding a dolphin on the lid with Cupid at her side; a rich cloth billowing in the wind forms the handle of the lid. Two mermaids form handles on the side of the tureen and dolphins and tritons the feet that rest on a stand. Two swans hold the arms of Count von Brühl and his wife Countess Franziska Kolowrat-Krakowsky between them, and were this plate painted, their coat of arms would appear on the rim of the plate with lightly scattered Kakiemon flowers and a gold border.
For an example of a decorated plate see: http://www.cooperhewitt.org/object-of-the-day/2013/04/20/diplomatic-swans
Modified versions of the Swan Service are still in production at Meissen today.
On the Swan Service see Ulrich Pietsch “From the ‘Yellow Lion’ to the ‘Blue Band’: Famous Eighteenth-Century Meissen Dinner Services” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 98-99; 281-283; for more items and further information see Den Blauuwen, A. L., 2000, Meissen Porcelain in the Rijksmuseum, pp. 191-197.
For an example of Hollar’s engraving go to: http://link.library.utoronto.ca/hollar/digobject.cfm?Idno=Hollar_k_2032&query=Hollar_k_2032&size=large&type=browse
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 270-271.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1737-1740
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
white (overall color)
aquatic birds, shell pattern in relief (overall style)
overall: 12 1/4 in; 31.115 cm
overall: 1 3/4 in x 12 1/8 in; 4.445 cm x 30.7975 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
collector/donor number
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Meissen Porcelain: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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