Meissen figure of a pikeman

Meissen figure of a pikeman

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TITLE: Meissen figure of a pikeman
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 4⅞" 12.4 cm
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Domestic Furnishing
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 78.430
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in blue on unglazed base.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1944.
This figure 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 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.
In 1745 Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) modeled a series of soldier figures to be presented as a gift from the Saxon court for Karl Peter Ulrich von Holstein-Gottorp (later, and very briefly, Czar Peter III of Russia (1762)) who liked to play with toy soldiers throughout his adult life. This figure of a pikeman comes from that series, but originally appeared as a Saxon soldier dressed in a scarlet and white uniform.
Pikemen were in the front line of an advancing army. They lowered their pikes, consisting of a wooden shaft with a steel point on the end, to hinder the cavalry from breaking through to the ranks behind them. The pikemen caused injury to the horses, unseating their riders who were then open to attack from soldiers carrying muskets or swords.
War was seldom absent from European soil in the eighteenth century, and those that involved Saxony/Poland included the Great Northern War (1700-1721) between Russia and Sweden; the War of Polish Succession (1733-1735) in which Saxony/Poland was at the center of a conflict that spread to many parts of Europe; the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), which was a series of wars fought in an attempt to dismantle the Habsburg succession after the death of Charles VI in 1740; the Seven Years War of 1757-1763), a war that inflicted severe damage to Saxony at the hands of Prussia, and was the first global conflict with fighting between the French and the British in India and North America.
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 figure 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.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, p.456-457.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1750
Meissen Manufactory
place made
Germany: Saxony, Meissen
Physical Description
blue (overall color)
polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 4 7/8 in; 12.3825 cm
overall: 4 7/8 in x 3 1/2 in x 1 11/16 in; 12.3825 cm x 8.89 cm x 4.28625 cm
ID Number
catalog number
collector/donor number
accession 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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