Meissen chocolate pot and cover
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- Created Date
- ca 1750-1800
MARKS: Crossed swords and an “8” in underglaze blue.
PURCHASED FROM: The Art Exchange, New York, 1969.
This chocolate pot 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 collector and dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychoanalysis 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.
Early in Meissen’s history Johann Friedrich Böttger’s team searched for success in underglaze blue painting in imitation of the Chinese and Japanese prototypes in the Dresden collections. Böttger’s porcelain, however, was fired at a temperature higher than Chinese porcelain or German stoneware. As in China, the underglaze blue was painted on the clay surface before firing, but when glazed and fired the cobalt sank into the porcelain body and ran into the glaze instead of maintaining a sharp image like the Chinese cobalt blue painted porcelains. The Elector of Saxony and King of Poland Augustus II was not satisfied with the inferior product. Success in underglaze blue painting eluded Böttger’s team until Johann Gregor Höroldt (1696-1775) appropriated a workable formula developed by the metallurgist David Köhler (1673-1723). Success required adjustment to the porcelain paste by replacing the alabaster flux with feldspar and adding a percentage of porcelain clay (kaolin) to the cobalt pigment. Underglaze blue painting became a reliable and substantial part of the manufactory’s output in the 1730s.
Meissen introduced the “strawflower” (Strohblume) pattern, a stylized design based on Far Eastern floral prototypes in about 1750. It was less expensive to produce and was popular with middle-class consumers. Much imitated by other manufactories it is now associated with the Danish Royal Copenhagen manufactory. The pattern is applied over molded ribbing which is usually found on the interior or exterior of vessels with the “strawflower”design.
Hot chocolate was a luxury beverage in the eighteenth century. It was prepared by grinding imported cacao beans and melting the paste in hot water, and or milk, mixed with sugar and spices. It was then whisked to a frothy consistency by a swizzle stick, and the lid has a hole in it through which the rod of the stick could pass keeping the liquid warm while whisking. The wooden handle attached to a porcelain socket protects the hand when pouring the hot liquid into cups. Chocolate cups were made taller and slimmer in shape than tea or coffee cups, often with two handles.
Hot chocolate, one of the three hot liquors to transform European drinking and social habits, was more expensive and laborious to prepare than coffee, but nevertheless very popular. Chocolate houses, like coffee houses, began to appear in European cities in the late seventeenth century. The beverage was very different to the powdered cocoa drinks of today, and was closer to its origin in the cultures of Central and South America, but made more palatable for Europeans with the addition of sugar.
Bowman, P.B., 1995, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea-drinking 1600-1850On underglaze blue painting at Meissen see Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 22-23. For an example of a very similar chocolate pot see p. 266.
J. Carswell, 1985, Blue and White: Chinese Porcelain and its impact on the Western World.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 260-261.
Currently not on view
- Meissen Manufactory
- Chicago citation style
- Meissen Manufactory. Meissen chocolate pot and cover. ca 1750-1800. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID%3Anmah_1415638&repo=DPLA. (Accessed October 20, 2019.)
- APA citation style
- Meissen Manufactory, (ca 1750-1800) Meissen chocolate pot and cover. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID%3Anmah_1415638&repo=DPLA
- MLA citation style
- Meissen Manufactory. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America <http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID%3Anmah_1415638&repo=DPLA>.