Meissen figure group of a centaur with a cupid

Meissen figure group of a centaur with a cupid

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TITLE: Meissen figure group of a centaur with a cupid
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
OBJECT NAME: Figure group
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1755-1760
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 75.191
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARK: None
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1944.
This figure group 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.
Modeled by Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) in 1756, the subject of a centaur teased by Cupid probably originated in a bronze sculpture of the 2nd century BCE. A marble copy recorded in the Villa Borghese in Rome in 1638 and purchased in 1807 by Napolean Bonaparte is now in the Louvre in Paris. François Perrier (1590-1650) engraved the subject in 1638 for his collection of prints representing the finest examples of Roman statuary, and numerous reduced versions were subsequently made in bronze, wood, plaster and terracotta. The centaur stands in the original version with cupid on his back, but here the centaur is about to rise from the ground in an attempt to rid himself of the mischievous cupid tugging at his hair. 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.
The group is painted in overglaze enamel colors.
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 the Centaur with Cupid see Haskell, A., Penny, N., 1981, Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900, p.179. On the centaur see Grafton, A., Most, G.W., Settis, S., eds. 2010, The Classical Tradition, p. 187.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 434-435.
Object Name
figurine, group
date made
ca 1755-1760
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
blue (overall color)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
overall: 8 5/8 in; 21.9075 cm
overall: 8 9/16 in x 9 in x 3 3/4 in; 21.74875 cm x 22.86 cm x 9.525 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
collector/donor number
Credit Line
Dr. Hans Syz
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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