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Meissen figure group of the judgment of Solomon

Meissen figure group of the judgment of Solomon

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TITLE: Meissen figure group of the judgment of Solomon
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 6¾" 12.2cm
OBJECT NAME: Figure group
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1750-1760
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1983.0565.61
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARK: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1942.
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.
Modeled by Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) the figure group represents the Old Testament story in Kings 3:16-18 when King Solomon resolved a dispute between two women who lived in the same dwelling. Both women had recently given birth to sons, but one child died. The mother who lost her child switched her dead baby for the living one, and a dispute arose between the two women when the mother of the child who remained alive suspected wrongdoing. They took their dispute to King Solomon who called for a sword and declared that he would divide the living child in two and settle the matter. The true mother of the living child cried out in anguish that she would rather the other woman took the child than let it be killed. Solomon’s judgment was to return the living child to the woman he judged to be its natural mother, believing that through her desperation to keep the child alive no matter what the personal cost, she revealed the truth.
An Old Testament subject is marginal to the repertoire of devotional Meissen figures and figure groups from the New Testament commissioned by the Elector Friedrich Augustus III (1696-1763) and his wife Maria Josepha (1699-1757). When his father, Elector of Saxony Augustus II (1670-1733), became King of Poland in 1697 he assumed the title only by renouncing his Lutheran faith and becoming a Roman Catholic. The people of Saxony feared that their strong Lutheran state would be compromised by this development, but it was his son Augustus III and his consort Maria Josepha who had closer ties to Rome, and even then Lutherans remained free to practice their religion in Saxony. The Meissen devotional subjects and items of chapel furniture were modeled mostly for the small Catholic elite in Dresden, but also for Pope Clement XII and Cardinal Alessandro Albani in Rome, and for the Habsburg court in Vienna (on Meissen’s religious sculptures see Daniela Antonin “In Roman Style: Meissen’s Religious Sculptures” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, pp. 76-83).
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.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 432-433.
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 and gold (overall color)
figure group (Solomon's judgment) (overall style)
overall: 6 3/4 in; 17.145 cm
overall: 6 11/16 in x 3 5/8 in x 3 in; 16.98625 cm x 9.2075 cm x 7.62 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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