Meissen chocolate cup and saucer

Meissen chocolate cup and saucer

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TITLE: Meissen chocolate cup and saucer
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: Cup: H. 2¾" 7cm; Saucer: D. 5⅛" 13.1cm
OBJECT NAME: Chocolate cup and saucer
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 75.188 ab
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “6” impressed on cup; “2” impressed on saucer.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1948.
This chocolate cup and saucer 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 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.
This cup and saucer carries the “Red Dragon” pattern that was reserved for the use of the royal household. Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, ordered a dinner service to be made around 1728-1730 with the pattern based on Japanese motifs that were in turn based on Chinese prototypes, and it was one of the earliest such services to be made at Meissen. His son, Friedrich Augustus III, ordered a tea and coffee service in about 1740, and it is likely that chocolate cups and saucers served as breakfast items within the set.
The design was attractive to Augustus II partly because of its symbolism, and although many of the motifs on Chinese and Japanese artefacts were opaque to Europeans, it was known that the long dragon represented the Chinese emperor and the so-called phoenix represented the empress. In Chinese culture the dragon and phoenix motifs have a very long history inflected with different meanings over time, and their prototypes are evident on Neolithic ceramics, Shang and Zhou dynasty bronzes. The “phoenix’ in Chinese and Japanese mythology is not the same as the bird that renews itself in fire according to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures. The Chinese feng-huang and the Japanese hō-ō bird represent benevolence and wisdom, inhabiting the air and alighting on earth only at times of harmony and stability. Phoenix was a name chosen to represent the mystical bird by western observers and scholars of Chinese and Japanese cultures because of its superficial similarity to the fire bird or phoenix.
The prototype for the design is difficult to verify as there is no record of a Japanese example in the royal collections in Dresden, and there is a theory that the pattern originated at Meissen and was copied by Japanese porcelain painters in Arita after 1740 (Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750, p. 262). Japanese versions made before 1730 do exist, and another theory suggests the possibility that the pattern was introduced to Meissen by the Parisian dealer Rodolphe Lemaire and copied for the Paris luxury market where Lemaire sold Meissen pieces passed off as Japanese originals, which were highly sought after and more expensive even than Meissen porcelain (Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Pozellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, pp. 246-264).
Between the two dragons on the saucer and below the rim of the cup are some of the eight auspicious signs: the pearl, the coin, the scrolls, the wheel, and the artemisia leaf. The Meissen design differs slightly from the Japanese originals. Named the “Red Court Dragon” service, this pattern was reserved for the royal Saxon court until November 1918 when King Friedrich August III abdicated following the establishment of the Republic of Saxony. A modified design is in production at Meissen today.
Hot chocolate was a luxury drink usually taken at breakfast and often drunk while still in bed requiring two handles for greater security against spills.
For examples of a plate from the dinner service and two cups and saucers from the tea and coffee service see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp.456-458.
For examples of Dutch enameled dragon and phoenix patterns on both Meissen and Chinese porcelain see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750,p. 242-243. On the symbolism of the dragon see Shono, M., 1973, Japanisches Aritaporzellan im sogenannten „Kakiemonstil” als Vorbild für die Meissener Porzellanmanufaktur, S. 24.
On the impact of chinese porcelain in a global context see Finlay, R., The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 132-133.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1740
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
blue (cup color)
blue (saucer color)
monochrome, orange (component surface decoration color name)
birds of paradise (joint piece description of decoration)
dragon (joint piece description of decoration)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (cup material)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (saucer material)
overall: cup: 2 3/4 in; 6.985 cm
overall: saucer: 5 1/8 in; 13.0175 cm
overall cup: 2 3/4 in x 3 3/4 in x 2 5/8 in; 6.985 cm x 9.525 cm x 6.6675 cm
overall saucer: 1 1/8 in x 5 1/8 in; 2.8575 cm x 13.0175 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
Credit Line
Dr. Hans Syz
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Meissen Porcelain: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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