Meissen milk pot and cover

Meissen milk pot and cover

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TITLE: Meissen milk pot and cover from a tête à tête tea and coffee service
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 1 5/8 in x 15 3/4 in x 10 1/4 in; 4.1275 cm x 40.005 cm x 26.035 cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1805-1815
SUBJECT: The Alfred Duane Pell Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: The Alfred Duane Pell Collection
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: Alfred Duane Pell
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords and a star in underglaze blue.
This milk pot is from a Meissen tea and coffee service made for two people, and services of this kind for use at breakfast or for intimate meetings are known as têtê à têtê or cabaret services. Most interesting, however, are the enamel painted topographical images of Egyptian landscapes and antiquities, which date the service to the early nineteenth century after the publication of Dominique Vivant Denon’s Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte (Travels in Lower and Upper Egypt) in 1802.
In 1798 Denon traveled to Egypt as a member of Napoleon’s large team of scientists, engineers, artists, and scholars appended to the general’s army of about 20,000 troops who occupied Lower Egypt and chased the Mamluk Turks, then rulers of the country, into Upper Egypt. Known as the savants, these men studied and recorded all that they saw of both ancient and modern Egypt. As an artist, art collector, and antiquarian, Denon marveled at the sites of Egyptian antiquity and recorded in drawings everything that he could get down on paper while traveling with a battalion of the French army into Upper Egypt. His drawings, later engraved and published in the Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte are still a valuable record of Egypt’s ancient sites before the archaeological excavations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the construction of the first and second Aswan Dams.
Napoleon’s campaign was not a military success, his fleet destroyed by the British at the Battle of Abū Qīr Bay near Alexandria on August 1, 1798, thus isolating the French army on land in Egypt and restoring British control over the Mediterranean Sea. His team of scientists, engineers and artists, however, were undoubtedly successful in bringing new knowledge of ancient Egypt to Europe and America. Denon’s Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte was a very successful publication and the spirited account of his experiences was soon translated into English and other languages. It is likely that the enamel paintings on this tea and coffee service were commissioned privately by someone who perhaps owned a copy of the Voyage. When compared with the original drawings there are differences in detail and composition, which was not unusual, but for the most part the Meissen painters were faithful to Denon’s record, which was not in color, unlike the rich polychrome enamels seen on the tea and coffee service.
The parts of the service are molded in the severe, but nevertheless ornate, neoclassical style fashionable in designs of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With its origins in France artists and designers who worked in the neoclassical style took inspiration from ancient Roman and Greek art and architecture. Neoclassicism in its most ideologically pure form expressed a taste for elevated, didactic, and moral subjects in rejection of the court culture of the old regime prior to the French Revolution. In the German States, and especially in Berlin, the neoclassical style was favored by designers and architects.
The two Colossi of Memnon from Denon's Voyage represent huge statues of the Pharoah Amenhotep III, and not the Ethiopian warrior King Memnon of Greek legend. The statues stood at the entrance to the largest and most elaborate temple complex in Egypt at the time, the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III at Thebes. It was built on the west bank of the Nile in the 14th century B.C.E.. The statues face towards the rising sun in the east, and behind them stretched the huge mortuary temple, destroyed over the centuries by the waters of the Nile in flood, by earthquakes, and plundering of the site for building materials. The richness of statuary in the temple complex is still coming to light through archaeological excavations. On the other side of the milk pot we see the nearby remains of a temple palace built during the reign of Ramses II, and identified by Denon as the Memnonium. Ramses ordered the construction of the palace to stand within his large mortuary temple that, like Amenhoptep's, stood on the west bank of the Nile before their elaborate tomb complexes carved out of the cliff faces overlooking the river.
This service belongs to the Alfred Duane Pell collection in the National Museum of American History. Before Pell (1864-1924) became an Episcopalian clergyman quite late in life, he and his wife Cornelia Livingstone Crosby Pell (1861-1938) travelled widely, and as they travelled they collected European porcelains, silver, and furniture. Pell came from a wealthy family and he purchased the large William Pickhardt Mansion on 5th Avenue and East 74th Street in which to display his vast collection. The Smithsonian was one of several institutions to receive substantial bequests from the Reverend Pell which laid the foundation for their collections of European applied arts.
Bob Brier, Napoleon in Egypt, exhibition catalog Hillwood Art Museum, Brookville, New York: 1990.
Bob Brier, Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
James Stevens Curl, Egyptomania, the Egyptian Revival: a Recurring Theme in the History of Taste, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1994.
Egyptomania: Egypt in Western Art 1730-1930, exhibition catalog, National Gallery of Canada with the Louvre, Paris, 1994.
Paul V. Gardner, 1956, 1966 (rev. ed.), Meissen and other German Porcelain in the Alfred Duane Pell Collection.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Meissen Manufactory
Physical Description
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
black (overall color)
blue (overall color)
polychrome (component surface decoration color name)
overall: 5 1/8 in x 5 1/8 in x 2 25/32 in; 13.0175 cm x 13.0175 cm x 7.0739 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Industry & Manufacturing
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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