(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; “2” and two dots incised (former’s mark, Johann Martin Kittel).
PURCHASED FROM: William H. Lautz, New York, 1946.
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.
With its petal-shaped edge and raised basket weave border in the Sulkowsky pattern, the plate has an onglaze enamel painted image of two hound-like creatures with very long whiskers in a sparse landscape surrounded by scattered flowers.
The Meissen artist accredited with the introduction of the beasts of fable (Fabeltiere) is Adam Friedrich von Löwenfinck (1714-1754) who developed a painting style quite different to that of the director of the painting division, Johann Gregor Höroldt (1696-1775). Löwenfinck joined the manufactory in 1727, but his career as a painter at Meissen was short following completion of his apprenticeship in 1734. In 1736 he left Saxony following a serious conflict with another worker at Meissen that had legal consequences he wished to avoid, and evidently he found Johann Gregor’s Höroldt’s autocratic style and the low pay at Meissen intolerable. Nevertheless, his work at the manufactory, and subsequently at several faience manufactories in the German territories, is considered exceptional in quality and originality.
Löwenfinck developed a graphic illustrative style that took inspiration from a variety of western and East Asian sources: for example, the decorative style of Chinese porcelains of the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735), Japanese Kakiemon porcelains, the merchant subjects (Kauffarhtei) depicting the business of travel and exchange between agents of near and far eastern origins, and from the Dutch genres of harbor and landscape painting. For chinoiseries Löwenfinck adapted scenes from Petrus Schenk’s series of engravings, the Nieuwe geinventeerde Sineesen published in 1720, reinventing his own compositions. The fabulous beasts (Fabeltiere) came from Chinese sources, especially the porcelains of the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735), and also from printed material available in Europe like Conrad Gesner’s Historia Animalium of 1551-1555 reprinted well into the 17th century, in which are depicted animals both real, imaginary, and a mixture of both. Other Meissen painters worked in Löwenfinck’s style after he left the manufactory in 1736.
On the Meissen painter Adam Friedrich von Löwenfinck and this plate in particular see Pietsch, U., 2014, Phantastiche Welten: Malerei auf Meissener Porzellan und deutschen Fayencen von Adam Friedrich von Löwenfinck 1714-1754, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, 2014, S. 76; Rückert, R., 1990, Biographische Daten der Meissener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts, pp. 171-173.
For more examples of this class of subjects see Pietsch, U., 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: the Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 232-236.
Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 216-217.