Tea canisters originated in China during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), when steeping tea leaves in boiling water became the most widespread method for tea’s preparation. Alongside expensive cargoes of tea and other luxury goods, Chinese teapots, tea bowls and canisters were imported to Europe in the late 17th century. As the habit of tea drinking spread throughout Europe’s wealthy elite, so did the demand for decorative tea and tableware, prompting European porcelain manufactories to produce examples in European styles throughout the 18th century.
The hexagonal form of this tea canister was first modelled by the court sculptor Johann Jakob Irminger around 1710, using Japanese and Chinese ceramic prototypes as inspiration. This shape was used extensively by Meissen for the production of tea canisters in both porcelain and red stoneware. The painted decoration is attributed to Johann Georg Heintze, who in 1720 was apprenticed at Meissen at the age of 13. Heintze became one of Meissen’s most accomplished decorators and was listed in the manufactory’s records as a painter of ‘fine figures and landscapes’ in 1731. Heintze used a variety of sources for his work, namely Melchior Küssel’s Prospekter von Italien (Views of Italy), published in Augsburg in 1684. He was later recorded as a painter of ‘sea voyages’ for the years 1744-46 and is generally acknowledged for introducing harbour scenes to Meissen’s decorative motifs.