(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “21” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1943.
This plate 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.
Decorated in onglaze enamels in the Kakiemon style the plate has a molded basket weave pattern on the rim, known as the Sulkowsky pattern, with alternating butterflies and floral sprays painted over the relief. In the center of the plate a mythical creature that appears to be a composite of dragon and tiger crouches below a crane in flight. A flowering peony grows from behind a group of ferns with a large beetle close by; it is characteristic of Japanese Kakiemon designs that they pay little attention to scale and although this pattern was not copied from a known Japanese prototype from the Dresden royal collections, the Meissen designer followed the characteristics of the Kakiemon style. There are many examples of this pattern in private collections and museums
The crouching tiger-like creature with wings is known variously as the “Korean lion”, the “flying dog”, or “winged dragon. It is likely that the prototype for the Meissen pattern was of Chinese origin with the winged animal based on the Chinese ch’i-lin (somewhat akin to a unicorn) and the flying crane on the Chinese feng-huang (often referred to in the West as a phoenix). The German physician, envoy, and traveler, Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), wrote in his History of Japan “Of the Animals of this Country some are merely Chimerical, not existing in Nature, nor invented by the Japanese themselves, but borrow’d from their Neighbours the Chinese.” In the Japanese illustrated encyclopedic publication of 1666, the Kinmōzui by Nakamura Tekisai, the ch’i-lin is included with other animals of supernatural origin and those belonging to the natural world (http://record.museum.kyushu-u.ac.jp/kinmou/nk154.html ), and in the late seventeenth century the Japanese introduced more playful and comic aspects to many of the mythological creatures adopted from China, reflected in many of the Kakiemon designs.
Kakiemon is the name given to very white (nigoshida meaning milky-white) finely potted Japanese porcelain made in the Nangawara Valley near the town of Arita in the former Hizen Province (now the Saga Prefecture) on the island of Kyushu. The porcelain bears a characteristic style of enamel painting using a palette of translucent colors principally in iron-red, green, sea- green, blue, and pale yellow attributed to a family of painters with the name Kakiemon. The finely formed and restrained decoration of the Kakiemon wares was particularly highly valued by the Saxon Elector and King of Poland Augustus II (1670-1733), and Meissen porcelain in the Kakiemon style remained in production until the patterns fell out of favor in the 1740s. This particular pattern, however, was in production in the nineteenth century and was in use at the royal court in Dresden.
The same design can be seen on a cup and saucer in the Hans Syz Collection ID# 1983.0565.09a,b.
On the Japanese Kakiemon style and its European imitators see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750; Impey, O., Jörg, J. A., Mason, C., 2009, Dragons, Tigers and Bamboo: Japanese Porcelain and its Impact in Europe, the Macdonald Collection;
see also Takeshi Nagataki, 2003, Classic Japanese Porcelain: Imari and Kakiemon.
On the likely Chinese model for this plate see Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, pp.370, and the following pages for examples of this pattern on items from a dinner service.
For an example of a very similar plate see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collectionfrom the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, p. 276.
On animal symbolism see K. M. Ball (1927 and 2004) Animal Motifs in Asian Art.
On the impact of Chinese porcelain in a global context see Robert Finlay, 2010, The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 144-145.