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Object of the Month: February 2024

Meissen Vase

Porcelain, Mid-19th century

Ernst August Leuteritz

German, 1818 – 1893

Augustus II was elector of Saxony, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Lithuania. In the early 1700s he established Saxony as one of the most economically advanced areas of Europe and built himself a magnificent residence in Dresden where he maintained a lavish court. He was obsessed with the highly fashionable porcelain pieces imported from China and had a large collection of “white gold” (an appropriate name, for some of the more desirable pieces of Chinese porcelain were virtually worth their weight in gold). His collection not only impressed guests, it depleted his treasury. He was in constant need of the metallic variety of gold.

About 1700 in Prussia, a bright young apothecary’s apprentice, Johann Böttger, was bragging that he had found the goldmachertinktur (translation: gold maker tincture), a concoction that could convert base metals into gold. In an attempt to put the lad in his place, the apothecary asked Böttger to demonstrate the transmutation. The procedure was done under close supervision, and it worked! It produced several ounces of highly refined gold. (Böttger never revealed how he performed the trick, nor was it ever repeated.) The Prussian king learned of the success at making gold and seeing a way to fill his treasury, had Böttger put in “protective custody.” Knowing what happened to alchemists who failed to produce gold for their royal masters, Böttger panicked, escaped, and fled.

Böttger made it to Saxony. There his Prussian pursuers would not have authority to apprehend him. However, Augustus II learned of Böttger’s transmutation and had him captured and placed in a dungeon-like, medieval fortress. He could purchase his freedom with gold. Eventually the quantity demanded would not only fill the treasury, but also add some significant white gold pieces to Augustus’ collection. At one point Augustus even alerted the mint to be ready to strike coins with the gold that would soon be arriving. It never came.

Ehrenfried von Tschirnhaus, an educated German mathematician and scientist, was trying to make porcelain by heating various white materials to high temperatures. His experiments either failed or made a type of glass.  Since Böttger did not seem to be progressing in producing a goldmachertinktur, Augustus hired Tschirnhaus to supervise Böttger’s work. Originally Böttger looked down on Tschirnhaus’ experiments but realizing that perhaps white gold might spare his life, Böttger took interest in Tschirnhaus’ work.

A white clay mined near Meissen, a small town 16 miles from Dresden, contained kaolin and when mixed with various other materials, produced porcelain. Experimentation refined the recipe and eventually a porcelain equal to that imported from China, was made.

Augusts named Tschirnhaus director of the porcelain factory he planned to establish in Meissen. The white clay mines were nearby, and Meissen was on a major river so the wood needed for the kilns could be easily delivered. In 1708, before the factory could be built, Tschimhaus died suddenly. A few months later Böttger was named head of the Saxon Royal Porcelain Manufactory, the first factory to produce hard-paste porcelain in Europe.

Sculptors were hired to mimic the shapes of oriental pieces, and chemists were brought in to develop colored and clear glazes. The Meissen manufactory, as it came to be known, became highly profitable. Böttger’s living conditions greatly improved, but he did not completely regain his freedom. He remained director of Augustus’ manufactory until his death in 1719.

In the following 300 years, the Meissen manufactory constantly produced porcelain pieces. Sometimes the company was well managed and produced high quality, fashionable, and much sought after works. At other times, Meissen struggled under a variety of challenges including contaminants in the clay, export tariffs, limited production, outdated designs, and political turmoil (such as Napoleon and, later Hitler). Once Sèvres in France and both Minton and Wedgewood in England perfected porcelain production, Meissen’s bottom line suffered.

As mass manufacturing methods of porcelain and decoration became perfected, Meissen faced a decision: use modern methods to produce quantities of inexpensive pieces or continue with handcrafted and hand painted pieces. The company decided to produce only high quality, handmade and hand-decorated pieces. Present day Meissen pieces can be as valuable as the very old ones.

Ernst August Leuteritz and M&G’s Schlangenhenkelvase

Ernst August Leuteritz was born in Fischergasse (city near Meissen) in 1818 and became an apprentice in the Meissen manufactory at 18 years of age. He immediately demonstrated exceptional abilities in modeling and embossing. The next year he was given a stipend for a year’s leave of absence to study under Rietschels at the Art Academy in Dresden. Being very timid, he found the experience extremely difficult and returned to Meissen after a short stay; however, he was convinced to complete his training. His artistic growth and refinement of skills led Meissen to extend his leave for further studies. After several years he returned to the manufactory and was promoted to the position of “Modeler.” In 1849 he became Meissen’s “Head of Design,” a position he held until his retirement in 1886. He died in 1893.

During his tenure with Meissen, Leuteritz designed hundreds of ornate figurines, centerpieces, candlesticks, serving dishes, vases and virtually every other type of porcelain piece imaginable. Today his works are found in many museums and personal collections and fetch high prices at auctions.

Leuteritz designed several vases adorned with serpents. In 1853 he designed the schlangenhenkelvase (translation: snake-handled vase) in M&G’s collection. It is an amphora shaped vase on an ornately-sculpted, round pedestal. On each side a pair of snakes emerge from acanthus leaves, forming a loop and resting their heads on the rim. The schlangenhenkelvase in M&G’s collection was very popular in the second half of the 19th century and came in different sizes. M&G’s vase is 19 inches high and 13 inches wide.

The body of M&G’s vase is a deep garnet with accents of gold and white. The gold on the leaves and snakes appears worn in areas. The vase, however, still maintains its original gold application.

The Meissen Hallmark

The secret formula for making porcelain was protected by Meissen, until it was leaked to Austria through corporate espionage. By 1717, a factory in Vienna began producing porcelain; and by 1760, there were thirty European porcelain manufactories. In order to identify Meissen pieces, blue underglaze markings were added.

By 1720, the crossed swords from the Elector of Saxony’s coat of arms were introduced and by official decree in 1731, was required to appear on all Meissen porcelain. Meissen’s crossed-swords logo is among the oldest and longest used trademarks, as well as being among the most often forged. Variations of the sword’s curvature, hilt placement as well as other embellishments help to date the pieces. Since the hallmark was hand painted, there is considerable variety even among authentic logos.

Under the base of M&G’s schlangenhenkelvase is the blue underglaze Meissen crossed-sword logo. Experts recognize it as genuine. The mark indicates that this vase was possibly made in the late 19th or first quarter of the 20th century. The underglaze “67” identifies the garnet painter, and the gold “2” indicates either the painter of the gold or that M&G’s vase may be one of a set.

Now the good news: you can have your own authentic schlangenhenkelvase without having to search the internet or attend an art auction where fake vases have been known to exist. Meissen still manufactures schlangenhenkelvase as part of their Masterworks Collection. They are not stock items; each one is produced to order and includes hand painted floral bouquets on the amphora. View the strikingly beautiful vase you could own by clicking on the Purchase a Vase link below. However, be prepared for a bit of a shock.



Wiliam Pinkston, Retired Educator and M&G volunteer



Video of the discovery of how to manufacture porcelain

Video of Meissen manufacture of porcelain, including a schlangenhenkelvase being painted

Meissen Museum

Purchase a Vase

The Book of Meissen (Schiffer Book for Collectors) by Robert D. Rontgen

Meissen Porcelain Identification and Value Guide by Jim and Susan Harran


Published 2024

Object of the Month: May 2013

Dresden Monumental Armorial Urn

Porcelain, c. 1888-1901

Carl Thieme

German, 1838-1888

Carl Thieme was born in 1838 in Potschappel, a village on the outskirts of Dresden, Germany. In 1856 he was employed by the Meissen Manufactory, where he honed his porcelain modeling, sculpting, and painting skills under expert craftsmen. In 1865 he opened a porcelain and antique shop in Dresden. At this time he was also a hausmaler (a free-lance porcelain decorator) of unpainted items produced by Meissen and other manufacturers. In 1872 he opened the Dresden Saxonian Porcelain Manufactory in Potschappel. Thieme collaborated with prominent porcelain artists, such as Julius Konrad Hentschel, Eduard Eichler, and Ernst Bohne, and the company grew rapidly. The Dresden Saxony Porcelain Manufactory gained international recognition and received prestigious awards at national and international exhibitions.

Thieme died in 1888, and the business was eventually taken over in 1896 by his son-in-law, Karl August Kuntzsch (1855-1920). Kuntzsch was a talented modeler who started a tradition of lush, sculpted floral decorations. The business flourished and employed several hundred people. In time, the company became known as Dresden Porcelain. After the glory days of Thieme and Kuntzsch the company frequently floundered as it went through a succession of owners and directors. Tragedies destroyed its irreplaceable stock of over 12,000 models. At times Dresden Porcelain employed less than a dozen people, and by 2020 it had only two employees, tasked with selling the remaining pieces. Today the building which once produced Dresden Porcelain serves as a museum.

From its inception the Dresden Saxonian Porcelain Manufactory used various marks. The mark on the bottom of M&G’s urn indicates that the company produced it between 1888 and 1901 and that Thieme is credited with its design, even though it was produced after his death. The sculpted flowers may be early works of Kuntzsch or his apprentices.

A Monumental Urn

Monumental porcelain urns are generally large, ornate, highly decorated, and rarely intended to store anything. Some have ornate lids. Some come in pairs. The Dresden Saxony Porcelain Manufactory urns are legendary for their intricate beauty.

M&G’s monumental urn is 30 inches high. On its square base is a spindle-shaped pedestal with a pair of sculpted young people gathering flowers; between them, on the front, is a painted scene of Cupid and Venus.

In mythology, Cupid is the god of love and desire. He is often depicted as a mischievous, winged child, armed with a magical bow and arrows which he uses to strike people and gods madly in love. He enjoys the chaos of broken hearts and unexpected matches. Venus, the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, is Cupid’s mother. In some stories Cupid goes too far with his pranks, and Venus stops him by taking away his bow. The scene painted on the front of the pedestal of M&G’s urn depicts Cupid trying to reclaim his bow. (Figure 1)

The body of M&G’s urn is ovoid, with the smaller end pointed down. Two, curved handles are embellished with gold. The back of the urn’s body features hand-painted florals. The front of the urn has two garlands of sculpted flowers and fruits, surrounding a painted scene of the Expulsion of Hagar. (Figure 2)

The Biblical story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar is a found in the Book of Genesis chapters 16, 19 and 20. It is also mentioned in the Quran. Abraham was a righteous man chosen by God. God promised that he would become the father of a great nation. However, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was unable to conceive.

In an attempt to fulfill God’s promise, Sarah suggested that Abraham take her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, as a concubine. According to the customs of that time, a child born to Hagar would be considered Sarah’s child.  Abraham agreed. Hagar became pregnant and gave birth to a son named Ishmael.

As years passed, God appeared to Abraham and reiterated the promise, specifying that Sarah would bear a son. Despite their old age, Sarah conceived and bore Isaac. This miraculous birth fulfilled God’s promise, and Isaac became the child through whom the covenant with Abraham was established.

Tension grew between Sarah and Hagar, and eventually, Sarah asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Reluctantly, Abraham did so. This is the event portrayed on M&G’s urn. The 100-year-old Abraham, the elderly Sarah and the young Isaac are central in the painted scene. The departing Hagar with her back to viewer is leading Ishmael into the wilderness. (The seated female is unknown, probably a servant introduced by the artist to balance the picture.)

In the wilderness Hagar and Ishmael faced desperation and thirst. Hagar thought they would die. However, God heard their cries and provided for them. God also promised to make a great nation of Ishmael’s descendants. He is the ancestor of the Arab people. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael’s story is one of faith, obedience, and the fulfillment of divine promises, emphasizing the importance of trust in God’s plan.

An Armorial Urn

An armorial porcelain piece includes a coat of arms. Occasionally large sets of armorial dinnerware have been commissioned. Other times a centerpiece or single serving piece is armorial. In the case of armorial monumental urns, there is generally only one created, but occasionally there are pairs.

Monumental armorial urns in porcelain were generally commissioned to commemorate an event: winning a battle, the completion of a major project, a significant anniversary. A piece with two family crests, like M&G’s, would most likely be a wedding or anniversary gift, or perhaps commemorating some joint victory or project completion. As the recipient proudly displayed the beautiful piece, it would serve as a reminder of the event.

On M&G’s urn just under the painted scene of Hagar, two winged cherubs hold a swag of small, sculpted flowers which appear to support the crest-bearing medallion topped by a sculpted crown. The right crest has crossed swords, a green ornamented band, and a stylized purple crown, all of which are parts of Saxony crests. The crest on the left has not yet been identified.

Although today we may not know what M&G’s armorial urn commemorates, we can still appreciate its delicate beauty and admire the supreme craftsmanship required to produce it.


William Pinkston, retired educator and M&G volunteer



Dresden Porcelain Studios: Identification & Value Guide by Jim and Susan Harran


Updated from 2013 and republished to reflect new research in 2024