overall: 3 3/4 in x 2 3/8 in x 1 1/2 in; 9.525 cm x 6.0325 cm x 3.81 cm
Deutschland: Sachsen, Meissen
TITLE: Meissen figure of a child fish seller
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 3¾" 9.5 cm
OBJECT NAME: Figure
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1755-1760
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 1993.447.04
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 82
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue; small double “G” impressed.
PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1941.
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.
The cupid figure of a fish seller, identified by the wings on her back, is a version of the street trader series: two adult figures of street sellers of carp and oysters appear in the Cries of Paris series after drawings by Christophe Huet.
The Meissen cupids, the ‘costumed cupids’ or putti in disguise, represent a large group of about eighty figures modeled by Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) in the 1750s to early 1760s and remodeled by Michel Victor Acier1736-1799) after the Seven Years War in 1764. Usually, but not always, identified by the presence of wings on their backs, cupids represent many of the trades and artisanal activities, the Italian Comedy characters, allegorical and emblematic themes.
Cupids, or putti, tumble through the skies in Italian paintings of the seventeenth-century Baroque period. They are present in sacred and secular architecture rolling and gamboling through churches and palaces, supporting and framing the sculptures of both religious and allegorical subjects. Their antecedents were angelic and asexual in the Christian religion, but in pagan antiquity Cupid or Eros was the agent for the arousal of sexual desire. The eighteenth-century French painter François Boucher (1703-1770), strongly influenced by Italian painting during his studies in Italy, painted most of his classical subjects with chubby putti emphasizing the representation of amorous desire. In the Meissen figures the ‘costumed cupids’ and putti in disguise are coy versions of the manufactory’s adult figures in which the erotic signification of the cupid figure is suppressed by the overlaid disguises.
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 Cupid see Grafton, A., Most, G.W., Settis, S., eds. 2010, The Classical Tradition, pp. 244-246.
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 Hausmaler, p.470-471.