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Meissen dish

Meissen dish

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TITLE: Meissen dish
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: D. 11½" 29.2cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1983.0565.07
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “//” incised; “67” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.
This dish 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 plate belongs to the so-called Red Dragon service first made for the royal court and delivered to the Japanese Palace in 1731. The long dragon and phoenix design follows a Japanese prototype that was itself based on a Chinese forerunner.
The design was attractive to Augustus II partly because of its symbolism, and although many of the motifs on Chinese and Japanese artefacts were opaque to Europeans, it was known that the long dragon represented the Chinese emperor and the so-called phoenix represented the empress. In China, the dragon and phoenix motifs have an ancient history inflected with different meanings over time, and their prototypes are evident on Neolithic ceramics, Shang and Zhou dynasty bronzes. The “phoenix’ in Chinese and Japanese mythology is not the same as the bird that renews itself in fire according to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures. The Chinese feng-huang and the Japanese hō-ō bird represent benevolence and wisdom, inhabiting the air and alighting on earth only at times of harmony and stability. European observers and scholars of Chinese and Japanese cultures named the bird so because of its superficial similarity to the fire bird or phoenix.
The prototype for this design is difficult to verify as there is no record of a Japanese example in the royal collections in Dresden, and there is a theory that the pattern originated at Meissen and was copied by Japanese porcelain painters in Arita after 1740 (Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750, p. 262). Japanese versions made before 1730 do exist, and another theory suggests the possibility that the pattern was introduced to Meissen by the Parisian dealer Rodolphe Lemaire and copied for the Paris luxury market where Lemaire sold Meissen pieces passed off as Japanese originals, which were highly sought after and more expensive even than Meissen porcelain (Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Pozellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, pp. 246-264).
Named the “Red Court Dragon” service, this pattern was reserved for use in the royal Saxon court until November 1918 when King Friedrich August III abdicated following the establishment of the Republic of Saxony. A modified design is in production at Meissen today.
For more examples of this service see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, p.276; Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 456-457.
On the impact of Chinese porcelain in a global context see Robert Finlay, 2010, The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 130-131.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1740
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
blue underglaze (overall color)
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
iron-red and gold (overall color)
after a Japanese pattern (overall style)
overall: 11 1/2 in; 29.21 cm
overall: 1 3/4 in x 11 5/8 in; 4.445 cm x 29.5275 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog 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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