Meissen butter dish and cover

Meissen butter dish and cover

<< >>
Usage conditions apply
TITLE: Meissen butter dish and cover
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: H. 2¾" 7cm; D. 5" 12.8cm
OBJECT NAME: Butter dish
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1730-1735
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 68.121. ab
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; incised cross.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1945.
This butter dish 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.
The butter dish and cover have the so-called quail pattern painted in onglaze enamels in which two quail forage under a flowering prunus tree.
Meissen painters copied the quail pattern from Japanese porcelain in the Dresden collection of Augustus II (1670-1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, who had a passion for Japanese porcelain in the Kakiemon style. In Japan the quail pattern was adapted from the school of painters associated with the master and court painter Tosa Mitsuoki (1617-1691) who was inspired by Chinese paintings of the Song Dynasty (907-1276). Pattern books were available to Japanese artisans in the mid-seventeenth century and the quail motif was in common use as an ornament for objects made in metal, lacquer, wood, and ceramics. Quail with millet and fall grasses were often depicted in Japanese paintings and on screens that referred to the beginning of the fall season with poetic associations of a melancholy nature. For the European export market Arita’s painters more commonly depicted quail with spring flowering trees. In Europe it was at first assumed that these ground birds were partridges.
Kakiemon is the name given to very white (nigoshida meaning milky-white) finely potted Japanese porcelain made in the Nangawara Valley near the town of Arita in the North-West of the island of Kyushu. The porcelain bears a characteristic style of enamel painting using a palette of translucent colors painted with refined assymetric designs attributed to a family of painters with the name Kakiemon. In the 1650s, when Chinese porcelain was in short supply due to civil unrest following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchu in 1644, Arita porcelain was at first exported to Europe through the Dutch East India Company’s base on Deshima (or Dejima) in the Bay of Nagasaki.
The Japanese traded Arita porcelain only with Chinese, Korean, and Dutch merchants through the island of Deshima (or Dejima), and the Chinese resold Japanese porcelain to the Dutch in Batavia (present day Jakarta), to the English and French at the port of Canton (present day Guangzhou) and Amoy (present day Xiamen). Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, obtained Japanese porcelain through his agents operating in Amsterdam who purchased items from Dutch merchants, and from a Dutch dealer in Dresden, Elizabeth Bassetouche.
Ralph Wark, the American collector of Meissen porcelain and friend of Hans Syz, also purchased a butter dish from the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt. It has a different onglaze enamel pattern, but similar shape, and can be seen on p. 294 of the catalog by Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Garden. Three examples of the quail pattern can be seen on pp.272-274.
For a detailed account of the Kakiemon style and its European imitators see Impey, O., Jörg, J. A., Mason, C., 2009, Dragons, Tigers and Bamboo: Japanese Porcelain and its Impact in Europe, the Macdonald Collection; see also Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750, and on the quail pattern see pp.296-303. See also Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S. 310-317.
On the impact of Chinese porcelain in a global context see Robert Finlay, 2010, 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. 140-141.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1730-1735
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
blue (overall color)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
kakiemon (joint piece style)
overall: 2 3/4 in x 5 in; 6.985 cm x 12.7 cm
overall: 3 1/8 in x 5 in; 7.9375 cm x 12.7 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
Credit Line
Dr. Hanz 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
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object