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Meissen figure of a flute player: Gallant Orchestra

Meissen figure of a flute player: Gallant Orchestra

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MARK: No mark visible
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1941.
The figure of a flute player 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.
Meissen figures of this period evolved under the court sculptor Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) who became Modellmeister or master modeler at Meissen in 1733. It was he who established the appropriate scale and style for porcelain figures, informed by his training as a sculptor in other materials, and by the sensuous drama of baroque form. Kaendler introduced a novel type of small-scale sculpture in a new material imitated by numerous porcelain manufactories in Europe.
The flute player formed part of a large group known as the “Galant Orchestra” (Galante Kapelle), modeled between 1750 and 1760 by Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) with his assistant Friedrich Elias Meyer (1724-1785). The colorful and lively figures in the orchestra represent Dresden courtiers, not professional musicians and singers, and were used for table decoration to augment the confectioners’ art of creating sugar or marzipan sculptures hardened with tragacanth. They were also collectable objects for display in cabinets, and increasingly attractive to the entrepreneurial class that grew in numbers and wealth during the mid to late eighteenth century.
The Dresden court under Electors August II and Friedrich August III was renowned throughout Europe for its fine composers and the excellence of its musicians who performed at the opera and theater, for religious ceremonies, court entertainments, festivals, and hunts. Major composers and musicians who worked for the Dresden court for all or part of their careers included Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729); bass player and composer Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745); violinist and composer Johann Georg Pisandel (1687-1755); Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) and his wife the soprano Faustina Bordoni (1697-1781); flautist, oboist, and composer Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773). The Meissen figure of the flute player has a recorder lying by his feet, and at about the time Kaendler and Meyer modeled the Galant Orchestra in the mid-eighteenth century the recorder fell out of use in favor of the more dynamic flute which has greater sound projection and a wider tonal range. Not until the early music movement of the early to mid- twentieth century did the recorder become a professional musician’s instrument once again.
Meissen figures and figure groups are usually sculpted in special modeling clay and then carefully cut 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. A version of the Gallant Orchestra is in production at Meissen today.
In the absence of a mark on this piece, and the inclusion of the recorder not seen on early models, the figure may be a nineteenth-century version, of which there are many.
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, and for further examples of the "Galante Kapelle" including the flute player see p. 360.
See chapter 2 The Court of Saxony-Dresden, in Owens, S., Reul, B. M., Stockigt, J. B., 2011, Music at German Courts, 1715-1760: Changing Artistic Priorities; Heartz, D., 2003, Music in European Capitals: the Galant Style, 1720-1780.
On eighteenth-century music and theatrical life in Dresden see Petrick, R., 2011, Dresdens bürgerliches Musik-und Theaterleben im 18. Jahrhundert. As long as Dresden citizens were well dressed, they were permitted to attend music and drama events hosted by the Elector or members of the court.
This object is not illustrated in the Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei. Many of these figures were reproduced in the nineteenth century, and without a mark the status of this object is open to question.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
hard-paste porcelain (overall material)
polychrome enamels and gold (overall color)
Rococo (overall style)
overall: 5 5/16 in x 2 7/8 in x 2 1/16 in; 13.49375 cm x 7.3025 cm x 5.23875 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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