(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: Hans E. Backer, London, England, 1947.
This pair of vases 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.
The two vases are not an identical pair, and the form is similar to earlier Meissen vessels made in Johann Friedrich Böttger’s red stoneware. The onglaze enamel painting is in the so-called Indian flowers style (indianische Blumen), a Meissen genre developed from Chinese and Japanese prototypes that typically features heavy growth of stylized chrysanthemums and peonies emerging from a rocky garden with birds and insects flying above or sheltering under the blossoms. Many of the vases with this type of pattern were made for Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, and delivered to the Japanese Palace, but these two vases do not have the customary AR (Augustus Rex) mark that usually identifies such pieces, some of which are impressive and made in groups of seven as garnitures for installation in the Palace or sent to other European courts as diplomatic gifts.
In early eighteenth-century Europe “Indian” referred to imported luxury goods that came from India and the Far East principally through the Dutch and English East India Companies, but with no specific reference to the Indian subcontinent. For the Dutch and English East India Companies the trade in spices, tea, and textiles was much larger and more profitable than in porcelain or other luxuries like laquer goods, furniture made from exotic woods, and gemstones. European trade with the East was complex and fluid, achieved through several international trading ports in the South China Sea, the Indonesian Archipelago, and the Indian subcontinent, with the Dutch in particular engaging in inter-Asian trade of commodities like copper that did not reach European shores in large quantities.
For other examples of Meissen porcelain in the Indian flowers style see Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, pp. 436-444 Vasen mit indianischen Blumen ; den Blaauwen, A. L., 2000, Meissen Porcelain in the Rijksmuseum, pp.50-61.
On the English East India Company see for example, Lawson, P., 2014, The East India Company: A History; on the Dutch East India Company and its trade with Japan in commodities like copper see Yasuko Suzuki, 2012, Japan-Netherlands Trade 1600-1800: the Dutch East India Company and Beyond. On the impact of Chinese porcelain on a global scale see Finlay, R., 2010, The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert,1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 184-185.