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Meissen cup and saucer: one of a pair

Meissen cup and saucer: one of a pair

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TITLE: Meissen: Pair of cups and saucers (Hausmaler)
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Cups: 1¾" 4.5 cm
Saucers: D. 5" 12.8 cm
OBJECT NAME: Pair of cups and saucers
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1735-1740, Meissen
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1979.0120.10/11 Aab,Bab
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “11” impressed on cup A; five-pointed star impressed on foot ring of saucers (former’s mark, possibly Gottfried Bergmann ca. 1709, d.1753).
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1941.
This pair of cups and saucers are 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.
The cups and saucers were made in the Meissen manufactory but painted outside by an independent artist. Hausmalerei is a German word that means in literal translation ‘home painting’, and it refers to the practice of painting enamels and gold onto the surface of blank ceramics and glass in workshops outside the manufactory of origin. Beginning in the seventeenth century the work of the Hausmaler varied in quality from the outstanding workshops of Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland), to the less skilled efforts of amateur artists. Early Meissen porcelain was sought after for this purpose, and wealthy patrons of local enameling and gilding workshops purchased undecorated porcelain, often of out-moded or inferior quality, which was then enameled with subjects of their choice. Hausmalerei was at first acceptable to the early porcelain manufactories like Meissen and Vienna, and Meissen sent blank porcelain to Augsburg workshops for decoration, but as the market became more competitive they tried to eradicate the practice. It was a temptation for Meissen porcelain painters to take on extra work as Hausmaler to augment their low pay, and the manufactory cautioned or even imprisoned them if Hausmalerei activity was suspected or discovered.
The two cups and saucers belong to the same tea service as the rinsing bowl (ID number 1979.0120.12). The exteriors of the two cups have enamel painted flowers in the style of botanical illustration (Holzschnittblumen) placed between prunus blossoms in relief. The saucers contain images of a musician playing a harp and a woman with a shepherd’s crook held in her right hand and a wreath in her left, both in pastoral settings and painted in the mid-eighteenth century in the workshop of Franz Ferdinand Mayer of Pressnitz Bohemia (now Přísečnice in the Czech Republic).
The images painted on the saucers have an archaic style belonging to the seventeenth rather than the eighteenth century and may come from emblematic personifications representing contentment and care of the land. Like the manufactory painters Hausmaler used printed material as a source for their subjects, and it is not unusual to see images that originated in the print workshops of the previous century. In an age before copyright laws numerous pirated editions of prints, print series, and printed books circulated through the hands of artisans who depended on the printed image for ornamental patterns, and for subjects of interest to collectors and consumers.
Tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar were luxury products for early eighteenth-century consumers. Only the wealthy could afford to drink these beverages sweetened with sugar from silver or porcelain tea and coffee services. Many of the Meissen services were little used and have survived three hundred years because they were kept as items for decorative display in whole or in part. City dwellers drank coffee in the coffee-houses that first appeared in Europe in the 1650s. Lively institutions for generating commercial activity on local and global scales, they were also meeting points for intellectual debate and intrigue, but open only to a male clientele. Coffee was served in bowls imported from the port of Canton in China, or from much cheaper, locally made imitations made from tin-glazed earthenware.
The cups and saucers have the same raised prunus relief from the Meissen Manufactory, the same gold scrollwork and woodcut flowers as the rinsing bowl (ID # 1979.0120.12).
On Hausmaler see Ulrich Pietsch, 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: The Wark Collection from The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 43-46.
Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ‘Graphic Sources for Meissen Porcelain: Origins of the Print Collection in the Meissen Archives’ Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol 31(1996) pp.99-126.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 538-539.
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)
allegorical, Hausmalerei (overall style)
cup: 1 3/4 in; 4.445 cm
saucer: 5 in; 12.7 cm
overall cup: 1 15/16 in x 4 in x 3 1/8 in; 4.92125 cm x 10.16 cm x 7.9375 cm
overall saucer: 1 1/8 in x 4 15/16 in; 2.8575 cm x 12.54125 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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