Meissen figure group of a bacchanal procession

Meissen figure group of a bacchanal procession

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TITLE: Meissen figure group of a bacchanal procession
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 8½ " 21.6 cm
Mark: Crossed swords in underglaze blue
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: 1983.0565.60
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARK: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.
PURCHASE: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1941.
This figure group 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.
The figure group, possibly modeled by Friedrich Elias Meyer (1724-1785), represents the revels in honor of the Greek god Dionysis or the Roman Bacchus, and follows the Rococo style of representation epitomized by the French painter François Boucher. The man seated on the donkey, or an ass, represents the drunken Silenus prevented by Bacchus from falling off his mount in a stupor. A bacchante reclines at Bacchus’s feet with a basket full of grapes.
The Renaissance humanist tradition was still active in early eighteenth-century court culture, and the Meissen manufactory produced a large number of mythological and allegorical subjects featured in other branches of the visual arts and in the elaborate court entertainments, festivals and processions that took place in Dresden. This model is listed in the 1773 inventory of confectionary items and was likely used for decorative display on the dessert table (see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, p. 345).
Meissen figures and figure groups are usually sculpted in special modeling clay and then cut carefully 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 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.
On court festivals see Watanabe O’Kelly, H., 2002, Court Culture in Dresden: From Renaissance to Baroque
On Bacchus/Dionysius see Grafton, A., Most, G.W., Settis, S., eds. 2010, The Classical Tradition, p. 272; Dalby, A., 2003, Bacchus: A Biography
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 430-431.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1760
Date made
1740 to 1750
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
blue underglaze (overall color)
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels (overall color)
baccanal figure group (overall style)
overall: 8 1/2 in x 9 in; 21.59 cm x 22.86 cm
overall: 8 1/2 in x 8 5/16 in x 5 3/16 in; 21.59 cm x 21.11375 cm x 13.17625 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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