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Meissen figure: a pair of nesting birds

Meissen figure: a pair of nesting birds

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TITLE: Meissen: A pair of nesting birds
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 3 ⅛" 8 cm.
OBJECT NAME: Bird figures
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 78.432 A,B
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1943.
These canaries caring for their hatchlings are 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 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.
Johann Joachim Kaendler (1776-1775) began to model birds in 1733 soon after his appointment to the Meissen manufactory. He studied exotic birds kept in the Saxon Elector’s aviaries at Moritzburg Castle near Dresden, but his models of native European birds were also observed with care, and he invested all his avian subjects with characteristics typical of their species. Canaries are not native to Europe, but by the eighteenth century German breeders were known for their skill in raising birds with particularly fine singing abilities. This particular model is one of Kaendler’s earliest, recorded in the manufactory archives in January 1733 as ‘a canary bird nest, in which are found three young by an unbroken egg, and the adult canary bird perches on the nest feeding the young.’ The two items seen here are almost identical in form. Other models have two birds on a nest, and typical species represented are canaries and finches, both of which were popular for their songs and kept as pets in ornamental cages. Kaendler modeled at least three bird sellers, one based on Christophe Huet’s Cris de Paris series in collaboration with Peter Reinicke, another of unspecified graphic origin, and yet another based on the Cryes of the City of London series after the engraving ‘ Buy a fine singing bird’ in Pierce Tempest’s publication of 1688. The original drawings were by Marcellus Laroon. See the ‘Quack Doctor with monkey’ (74.140) from the same series.
Meissen figures and figure groups are usually sculpted in special modeling clay and then cut carefully into separate pieces from which individual molds are made. Porcelain clay is then pressed into the molds and the whole figure or group reassembled to its original form, a process requiring great care and skill. The piece is then dried thoroughly before firing in the kiln. In the production of complex figure groups the work is arduous and requires the making of many molds from the original model. The nest is made of fine extrusions passed through metal dyes or mesh.
The group is painted in overglaze enamel colors.
On the modeling and molding process still practiced today at Meissen see Alfred Ziffer, “‘…skillfully made ready for moulding…’ The Work of Johann Joachim Kaendler” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, pp.61-67.
See Die Arbeitsberichte des Meissener Porzellanmodelleurs Johann Joachim Kaendler 1706-1775,2002, p.18. 3. 1 Canari Vogel Nest, worinnen sich 3 junge nebst einem unausgebrütetem Ey befinden, und the alte Canari Vogel auf dem Nest sitzet und die jungen füttert.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 484-485.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1750
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
overall: 3 1/8 in; 7.9375 cm
overall: 3 1/4 in x 4 15/16 in x 3 1/2 in; 8.255 cm x 12.54125 cm x 8.89 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession number
Credit Line
Dr. Hans Syz
See more items in
Home 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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