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Meissen cup and saucer

Meissen cup and saucer

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TITLE: Meissen cup and saucer
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Cup: H. 2¾" 7cm; saucer: D. 5¼" 13.3cm
OBJECT NAME: Cup and saucer
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1740-1745
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1989.0715.06 a,b
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “B” in purple on cup (painter’s mark); “52” impressed on saucer.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1943.
This cup and saucer 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 cup and saucer represents the early style of European flower painting at Meissen known as woodcut flowers (Holzschnittblumen), a style that became popular as interest in the Indian flowers based on oriental floral patterns declined. The flowers painted in overglaze enamels on this tea bowl and saucer were based on late sixteenth and seventeenth-century books made available to the Meissen manufactory, for example: Joris and Jacob Höfnagel’s Archetypa Studiaque Patris Georgii Hoefnagelii (1592), Maria Sybilla Merian’s Neues Blumenbuch (1675-1683) and Wenzel Hollar’s illustrations of flora and fauna. These virtuoso works depicting plants and insects were used as pattern books by artists and artisans in the making of luxury artifacts well into the eighteenth century. Imagery of this kind appealed to the educated elite who developed an intense interest in nature in the search to understand flora and fauna according to the early modern concept of a planned creation of the world. Insects were appreciated for their uncommon beauty and mysterious life cycles.
The Meissen painter has copied the convention of depicting these insects with faint shadows, a conceit used by Joris Hoefnagel to trick the eye into seeing the creature as though it had just alighted on the surface of a page.
The Meissen manufactory operated under a system of division of labor. Flower painters were paid less than workers who specialized in figures and landscapes, and most painters received pay by the piece rather than a regular wage. In the late eighteenth century flower painters were even busier and consumer taste for floral decoration on domestic “china” has endured into our own time, but with the exception of a manufactory like Meissen where hand painting is still practiced most floral patterns are now applied by transfers and are not painted directly onto the porcelain.
Cassidy-Geiger, M., 1996, ‘Graphic Sources for Meissen Porcelain’ in Metropolitan Museum Journal, 31, pp.99-126.
On the painting division at Meissen see Rückert, R., 1990, Biographische Daten der Meißener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts, pp. 134-136.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmaler, pp. 360-361.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1740-1745
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels (overall color)
German flowers (overall style)
cup: 2 3/4 in; 6.985 cm
saucer: 5 1/4 in; 13.335 cm
overall cup: 2 3/4 in x 3 3/8 in x 2 7/8 in; 6.985 cm x 8.5725 cm x 7.3025 cm
overall saucer: 1 1/16 in x 5 1/4 in; 2.69875 cm x 13.335 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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