Meissen ice cream pail and cover

Meissen ice cream pail and cover

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TITLE: Meissen ice cream pail
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H. 11⅞" 30.2cm
OBJECT NAME: Ice cream pail
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 63.268 ab
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.
This ice pail is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began collecting 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 ice cream pail was a novel addition to the eighteenth-century dessert service, the final spectacle of an elite banquet in which the talent of the court confectioners was on display. Milk products were used to make frozen or ice-cooled delicacies in China during the T’ang Dynasty (618-907), and even earlier frozen or chilled drinks and water ices were known to India, Central Asia and the Middle East. Ice and snow harvested from colder regions, or locally during the winter months, was stored in caves or underground pits to make cold drinks. In Europe the technique for making frozen desserts that we might recognize developed in the seventeenth century when it was understood that salt mixed with ice could lower the temperature of drinks and foodstuffs. The experiments of the court confectioners led to methods that produced the smooth creamy treat we know so well, but which was available only to the nobility when this ice pail was made.
This particular pail was first modeled in 1728 and the Manufactory records the production of forty four pails in the same year; in the catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection and some other publications the pail is described as a tureen. The handles were initially the work of the Meissen modeler Christoph Ludwig Lücke who worked at the manufactory for two years (1728-1729) and identified his model with the mythological siren (see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp.246-247), but on this pail the model for the handle appears to have been reworked. There is an artichoke finial on the lid and the Japanese mythological beast, the kirin, is painted on both the pail and cover with scattered Indian flowers (indianische Blumen) and insects.
The German physician, envoy, and traveler, Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), wrote in his History of Japan “Of the Animals of this Country some are merely Chimerical, not existing in Nature, nor invented by the Japanese themselves, but borrow’d from their Neighbours the Chinese.” Many mythical animals were indeed adopted from China, most notably the dragons, the ho-ho bird, and the tiger, but the Japanese were highly imaginative in constructing their own fantastic creatures and shape-shifting animal spirits, some of which were based on real creatures like the fox, the flying squirrel, the Japanese wild dog (tanuki). In mid-seventeenth century Japan, during the early Edo period, encyclopedias began to appear describing the natural world as part of a lively publications industry that met the thirst for books in urban and literate communities. Like Chinese encyclopedic books on which they were based supernatural beings were not left out of the illustrated publications describing nature, and in for example, the early encyclopedia of Tekisai Nakamura, the Kinmōzuii of 1666, imaginary beasts and birds are included alongside those that exist in the natural world.
For a fine example of a comparable object painted with Chinese shishi lions see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 246-247. See Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Pozellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S. 14-18 for an earlier version painted in underglaze blue. The catalog Meissen Porcelain in the Rijksmuseum by Den Blaauwen, A. L. (pp. 152-153) has one large and two smaller versions with chinoiseries described as tureens and the model is also identified as a container for the Spanish bean soup ‘Olla Podrida’ (see Weber, J., 2013, p.18.).
On Japanese animal spirits see Foster, M.D., 2009, Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai.
On the history of ice and its uses see David, E. (1994) Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices; Quinzio, J. (2009) Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 214-215.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels (overall color)
Japan / China (overall style)
overall: 12 7/8 in x 11 5/8 in x 7 1/2 in; 32.7025 cm x 29.5275 cm x 19.05 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession 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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