Meissen tea bowl and saucer

Meissen tea bowl and saucer

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TITLE: Meissen tea bowl and saucer
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Tea bowl: H. 1⅝" 4.2cm; Saucer: D. 4¾" 12.1cm
OBJECT NAME: Tea bowl and saucer
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1984.1140.12 ab
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords and a dot in underglaze blue; “6” or “9” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1944.
This tea bowl 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.
With a dense brown iron oxide-based glaze known as “dead leaf” or Capuchin brown after the habit of Franciscan Capuchin monks, the tea bowl and saucer have small reserves in which floral medallions are painted in underglaze blue, overglaze iron-red, purple, and gold. The medallions appear to float on the surface interspersed with birds and insects painted in gold. Few of these pieces exist because the Manufactory Commission considered the procedure for decorating them too costly, requiring too many kiln firings as well as gold polishing to finish the pieces.The surface treatment may have been intended to imitate Japanese lacquer work of the Edo period. The iron oxide based color was developed by Samuel Stölzel (1685-1737) in 1720 (see Pietsch below) and it is usually seen with underglaze blue patterns after Chinese prototypes (see for example ID# 1984.1140.03ab).
In the eighteenth century tea, coffee, and chocolate was served in the private apartments of aristocratic women, usually in the company of other women, but also with male admirers and intimates present. In affluent middle-class households tea and coffee drinking was often the occasion for an informal family gathering and for entertaining guests. Coffee houses were exclusively male establishments and operated as gathering places for a variety of purposes in the interests of commerce, politics, culture, and social pleasure.
For two more tea bowls and saucers from this service see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, p.124.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 208-209.
Currently not on view
Object Name
bowl, tea
date made
ca 1740
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
medallion and birds (joint piece description of decoration)
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
underglaze blue, brown glaze, polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
east Asian / European (overall style)
bowl: 1 5/8 in; 4.1275 cm
saucer: 4 3/4 in; 12.065 cm
overall tea bowl: 1 1/2 in x 2 1/2 in; 3.81 cm x 6.35 cm
overall saucer: 1 in x 4 1/2 in; 2.54 cm x 11.43 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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