polychrome (overall surface decoration color name)
ceramic, porcelain, hard-paste (overall material)
overall: 7 5/8 in; 19.3675 cm
overall: 7 7/16 in x 5 1/16 in x 2 1/8 in; 18.89125 cm x 12.85875 cm x 5.3975 cm
Dr. Hans Syz
TITLE: Meissen figure of a stag
MAKER: Meissen Manufactory
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain, hard paste (overall material)
MEASUREMENTS: 7⅝" 19.4 cm
OBJECT NAME: Animal figure
PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany
DATE MADE: 1750
SUBJECT: The Hans Syz Collection
Industry and Manufacturing
CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection
ID NUMBER: 76.373
COLLECTOR/ DONOR: 344
(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)
MARK: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: Arthur S. Vernay Inc., New York, 1943.
This animal 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
One of master modeler Johann Joachim Kaendler’s (1706-1775) great strengths was his skill for modeling animals. He made life studies of animals and birds in the menagerie and aviary of the Dresden court, but one abiding eighteenth-century passion was the hunt, and deer hunting especially so. The stag represented here, and probably modeled by Kaendler, is a ‘royal’ stag marked by the twelve points or tines on the antlers. The stag is possibly modeled on a print by Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767), one of four images titled Deer in the Wild. Ridinger was a painter, draughtsman, etcher and engraver, and a publisher of prints specializing in animal subjects. It is also known that Kaendler drew animals from life, probably using for his sources the Elector of Saxony’s stock of wild game corralled for hunting.
Deer were high status game in the extravagant hunts conducted by the royal and princely courts in eighteenth-century Europe. A hunt was obligatory during the many court festivities held to mark betrothals, marriages, peace treaties, and feast days, but hunting inflicted a heavy toll on the environment. Game like red deer and wild boar were kept in hunting preserves that enclosed large tracts of woodland, and their presence in large numbers degraded the new growth of the forest. It was common practice to shoot game driven in herds across the line of fire, and in order to maintain sufficient numbers of animals many were caught in the wild and transported to the hunting preserves. Eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers criticized the royal and princely hunting administrations for the damage caused to the environment, especially the shortage of wood caused by degradation of the forests.
These small figures of animals were used for decorating the dessert table for festive banquets associated with the hunt. They formed part of the design in conjunction with decorations sculpted in sugar and other materials to create an elaborate display for the final course of the meal. The practice of sculpting in sugar, marzipan, butter, and ice for the festive table goes back for many centuries, and porcelain figures were a late addition to the tradition.
Meissen figures and figure groups are usually sculpted in special modeling clay and then carefully cut 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 animal 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.
On the hunt see Kroll, M., 2004, ‘Hunting in the Eighteenth Century: An Environmental Perspective’ in Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung Vol. 9, No. 3, pp.9-36
On decorating the dessert table see Cassidy-Geiger, M. "The Hof-Conditorey in Dresden: Traditions and Innovations in Sugar and Porcelain", in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie 1710-1815, pp. 121-131.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 480-481.