Meissen Chinoiserie teapot and cover

Meissen Chinoiserie teapot and cover

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MARKS: K.P.M. in undergalze blue (Koenigliche Porzellan Manufaktur); dot in gold.
PURCHASED FROM: Hans Backer, London, England, 1947.
This teapot is part of 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 psychoanalysis 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.
Unexpected events in 1720 accelerated the pursuit of color into one of the most important breakthroughs for the Meissen manufactory, and this was a high priority because it allowed for the application of decorative motifs that were not only durable, but exceptionally rich and luminescent in color quality. From Vienna, the painter Johann Gregor Höroldt (1696-1775) came to Meissen in April 1720 with Samuel Stölzel (1685-1737), a former member of the Meissen team who took the secret of porcelain manufacture to the Imperial capital. Subject to severe punishment for revealing the secret, known as the arcanum, to the Viennese, Stölzel’s pact was to bring the talented Höroldt to Meissen in order to build the color palette and train apprentices in enamel painting. Höroldt organised the laboratory for the production of enamel colors, and developed the so-called muffle kiln to fire the enamels onto the surface of the glaze at a gentle temperature of about 1382° F., 750°C. By 1731 a trained company of twenty-nine enamel painters was in place with Höroldt then appointed their director. Höroldt’s objective was to achieve a unity of style in the work of the porcelain painters, and towards this end he took on young inexperienced painters as apprentices with others more experienced. (See Pietsch, U., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords, p.17).
This teapot is one example of the porcelains painted in the chinoiserie style developed by Höroldt at Meissen. During the seventeenth century cargoes of exotic goods traded through the Dutch and English East India Companies reached Europe, bringing new colors, images, and tactile sensations into people’s lives. Even if the goods were not affordable to the majority, they were still visible in fashionable city centers where they were marketed. Following the civil war that ousted the Ming dynasty, China settled down with the establishment of the Manchu Qing dynasty after 1644, and in 1665 a commercial “Embassy” of the Dutch East India Company travelled there. The Embassy's progress to the Imperial court in Peking, now Beijing, was recorded by Jan Nieuhof (1618-1672) in his Embassy from the East India Company to the Emperor of China. The publication that followed contained many illustrations that contributed to the so-called chinoiserie style in Western Europe, a style adopted principally in architecture and interior decoration. Höroldt adapted chinoiseries for miniature painting on a range of tea, coffee and chocolate services in Meissen porcelain. It was a style that represented a European fantasy of the Orient, a land peopled with curious figures, richly dressed, and engaged in the pleasure pursuits of a fantastical daily life.
On the teapot you see a male figure on the left directing a woman who crouches on the ground weighing provisions in a beam scale. The porcelain jar by her side has a figure holding a parasol painted on it. A brightly colored bird and an insect fly above the figures, and floral growth frame the scene. More of these oriental flowers ornament the lid, handle, and spout of the teapot. On the reverse side a richly dressed figure on the right approaches a woman who reaches down to a sack full of fruits. Between them stands a box containing various items including a branch of coral, an auspicious symbol for longevity in Chinese culture. A scene similar to these two examples exists on the side of a covered bowl in the Meissen porcelain collection in Dresden, Germany. To produce these scenes Höroldt and his enamel painters worked from a collection of drawings, over one hundred of which remain in the collection known as the Schulz Codex. (See Behrends, R., 1978, Das Meissener Musterbuch fuer Hoeroldt Chinoiserien). No two scenes on the porcelains painted in this style are identical, Höroldt and his painters elaborated and adapted the scenes from the original drawings, although Höroldt did produce six etchings in 1726 that served as models for the painters. The teapot has a grotesque mask, a convention of European decoration, at the base of the spout. With some exceptions, Höroldt’s chinoiseries, which he described as “Japanese figures” were mostly painted on Meissen’s tea, coffee and chocolate services, items that made excellent diplomatic gifts to other European courts and favored members of the aristocracy.
On Johann Gregor Höroldt see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 17-25.
On chinoiserie see Impey, O., 1997, Chinoiserie: the Impact of Oriental Styles on Western Art and Decoration; on the porcelain trade and European exposure to the Chinese product see the exhibition catalog by Emerson, J., Chen, J., Gardner Gates, M., 2000, Porcelain Stories: from China to Europe
On gift-giving see Cassidy-Geiger, M., 2008, Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for European Courts 1710-1763.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 76-77.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
overall: 12.4 cm; 4 7/8 in
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
Credit Line
Hans C. Syz Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Industry & Manufacturing
Domestic Furnishings
The Hans C. Syz Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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