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Meissen figure of a lute player

Meissen figure of a lute player

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TITLE: Meissen figure of a lute player
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 7½" 19.1 cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1992.0427.03
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; three dashes in iron red.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1941.
This figure 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.
This figure is from the popular series of pastoral subjects, and the "shepherd” dressed as a courtier plays a lute with a spotted dog standing under his legs. Modeled by Carl Christoph Punct (died in Meissen 1765) the figure was probably based on French engravings and the Meissen modelers produced these subjects close in time to the Cris de Paris figures and the "Galant Orchestra".
The Saxon court, following the French court at Versailles, had a particular fondness for pastoral themes in its entertainments, and very popular were the pastoral plays performed in Count Heinrich von Brühl’s private theater in the Dresden Zwinger, the Mingottisches Theater. The pastorale began as a literary form in the sixteenth century, and was adapted for music and dance performances in the court masques of the renaissance and baroque periods.
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 figure is painted in overglaze enamel colors and gold. It is likely the figure had a companion, a shepherdess, and figures of this kind were collected for display in cabinets later in the eighteenth century.
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 eighteenth-century music and theatrical life in Dresden see Petrick, R., 2011, Dresdens bürgerliches Musik-und Theaterleben im 18. Jahrhundert.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp.462-463.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1765
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
blue underglaze (overall color)
red (overall color)
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels (overall color)
figure (overall style)
overall: 7 1/2 in; 19.05 cm
overall: 7 5/8 in x 4 1/8 in x 3 1/4 in; 19.3675 cm x 10.4775 cm x 8.255 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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