Meissen saucer (Hausmaler)

Meissen saucer (Hausmaler)

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TITLE: Meissen saucer (Hausmaler)
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: D. 4⅞" 12.4cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1720-1725
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 73.177
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
PURCHASED FROM: Minerva Antiques, New York, 1943.
This 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.
The saucer was 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, dismissed, and sometimes imprisoned them if Hausmalerei activity was suspected or discovered.
The saucer was painted in Augsburg in the 1730s, probably by Anna Elizabeth Wald (b.1696), the daughter of gold worker and Hausmaler Johann Aufenwerth (d. 1728). Two hundred years earlier Augsburg was the center of international merchant banking, and it is no coincidence that it was also a center for goldsmith work of exceptional quality. Although no longer a powerful city in the eighteenth century, Augsburg was still renowned for its high quality artisan trades in precious metals, book production, and textiles. Hausmalerei was one among many subsidiary trades that met demands from other workshops, individual clients, and new manufactories like that of Meissen.
The subject painted in onglaze enamel and framed in a cartouche painted in purple, iron-red, and gold, is of an alchemist who watches a crucible smoking on a furnace while his assistant weighs materials behind a table to his right. On the table between them vapors emerge from a large flask. Alchemical subjects occur quite frequently in chinoiseries of this period when alchemy in Europe had an ambiguous status between practices in the transformation of natural materials that had useful and productive outcomes, assaying of metal ores, and the manufacture of colors for example, and that of charlatanry.
For a comparable object see Siegfried Ducret, Meissner Porzellan bemalt in Augsburg, 1718 bis um 1750, Band 1, Braunschweig: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1971, plate 377.
On Hausmaler see Ulrich Pietsch, 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: The Wark Collection from The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 43-46.
On the history of alchemy see Principe, L., 2012, The Secrets of Alchemy.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 508-509.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
chinoiserie (joint piece style)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
overall: 4 7/8 in; 12.3825 cm
overall: 3/4 in x 4 7/8 in; 1.905 cm x 12.3825 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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