Josiah Wedgwood & Sons
English

Pair of spill vases

Ca. 1820

Black basalt stoneware

5 1/4 in. H x 2 1/4 in. Dm

$900.00

“The Black is sterling, & will last forever.”
Josiah Wedgwood

“The Black is sterling, & will last forever.”
Josiah Wedgwood

During the latter half of the eighteenth century, the Neoclassical style developed in England. This style, present in everything from architecture to decorative arts, was largely influenced by the English rediscovery of Antiquity through the Grand Tour and proclaimed a heritage of Western culture, at the time perceived to be the pinnacle of civilization. It was during this period that Josiah Wedgwood developed his celebrated black stonewares, coining them “Black Basaltes” in 1768.

Staffordshire potteries had been making black ceramic vessels throughout the eighteenth century using reddish brown clay that was fired around 1,200 degrees Celsius. Potters would add a coloring agent known as “carr” derived from iron residue in mine drainage. During the firing process, the clay would turn black. They termed their wares ‘Egyptian black.’ The 1760s saw the successful experimentation of purely black wares. Innovators such as Josiah Wedgwood added manganese to the clay to create an even richer black color.

Black basalt pottery was created during the height of the Grand Tour. Beginning in the seventeenth century and lasting through the nineteenth century, the Grand Tour took the English into the Continent to experience the seat of Western culture in the Italian peninsula. Tourists often had an education in the Classics, which made travel to ancient sites such as Rome and Naples popular. These Classical sites welcomed travelers who in turn picked up inspiration from Antique architecture and artifacts, then brought it back to England to incorporate into new designs. The Antique style was disseminated through publications and catalogs, most notably Sir William Hamilton’s 1766 catalog entitled Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman antiquities. Other seminal catalogs of Antiquity included Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’Antiquite Expliquee et representee en figures (1722) and Count Caylus’s Receuil d’Antiquites Egyptiennes Etrusques, Greques et Romaines (1761). The major British designers owned their own copies of these texts, including Josiah Wedgwood.

Wedgwood saw the potential of “Black Basaltes” because of their connection to Italy. Indeed, the very name “black basalt” is connected with the Italian peninsula through its reference to volcanic rock: “The choice of the name ‘Black Basalt’ for this type of ceramic was no doubt influenced by the so-called basalt controversy over the disputed volcanic origins of the black basalt rock” (Jenkins & Sloan, 1996: 182). Southern Italy was home to the famous Mount Vesuvius, which was a popular Grand Tour destination for classicists and natural historians alike. Classicists were interested in the newly unearthed artifacts at Pompeii and Herculaneum, which had a marked influence on the present spill vases, discussed in detail below. Natural historians and amateur scientists were interested in the Neapolitan environment, which experienced six volcanic eruptions throughout the eighteenth century. Possession of these vases would show the worldliness of its owner through its implicit reference to both Antiquity and to Italy. Diana Edwards explains that black basalt was the perfect medium to express taste:

“The technology of the basalt fabric was in the incubus; the past, forged by a social elite anxious to protect its authority by reference to Antiquity, provided the iconography, and the rise of a prospering middle class provided the market. The prospering of all classes clamoured for urns, cassolettes and garnitures of vases for chimney-pieces (Edwards 1994: 34).”

The spill vases feature many Neoclassical details which fit the gout etrusque style of that period. The gout etrusque “[dedicated] itself to a more scientific study of antiquity and to forge a revised image of it,” and “relied upon naturalistic ornamental motifs and chimerical figural inventions, arranged in mirror image around a central axis” (Ottomeyer 2004: 19-20). The decorative elements, made with a mold and then attached to the ceramic body, include a swirling border of stylized acanthus leaves that encircles the vessels. The scenes on the bodies show “excerpts” from Apollo and the nine Muses, a design attributed to John Flaxman and inspired by or even possibly copied directly from Sir Hamilton’s catalog. It is interesting to note the artisan’s sampling of this Classical subject: only three of the nine Muses are depicted. The other six Muses’ omission demonstrates the Neoclassical spirit of adapting Antique designs for contemporary aesthetic needs. Wedgwood in particular worked in this way. Figures could be selected by the designer to fit his vision of a particular object. The decorations’ interchangeability enabled the factory to quickly produce items that were unique and of high-quality at little expense and effort.

These spill vases, an homage to Western culture with references to Antiquity, would have been at the height of fashion in the early nineteenth century. As their provenance is unknown, we can only speculate about the previous owners, who were likely upper-middle class (black basalt, while not inexpensive, was more affordable than silver, which was the other popular medium for Neoclassical wares). Regardless of the economic status of its owners, however, it is clear that the vases were used to convey a social elitism. The technologically innovative new medium of black basalt, the Classical iconography, and the connection to the aristocratic Grand Tour all worked to turn these vases into a symbol of status, taste, and refinement for its owner.

BT

Condition

Excellent. On one vase, a small imperfection to a tree leaf measuring approximately 0.3 cm in length.

For a detailed condition report, please contact us.

References

Edwards, Diana. Black Basalt: Wedgwood and Contemporary Manufacturers. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1994.

Hancarville, Pierre d’. Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman antiquities from the cabinet of the Honourable William Hamilton. Naples: 1766. Design illustrated vol. 1 fig. 55, form illustrated vol. 2 figs. 46-47.

Jenkins, Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan. Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and His Collection. London: British Museum Press, 1996.

Ottomeyer, Hans. “The Metamorphosis of the Neoclassical Vase.” In Vasemania: Neoclassical Form and Ornament in Europe, ed. Heather Jane McCormick and Hans Ottomeyer, 15-30. New York: The Bard Graduate Center, 2004.

Pickering, Nicola. “‘The beautiful spirit of antiquity’: Pompeii and Herculaneum as inspiration for Neoclassical interior schemes in eighteenth-century Europe.” In Winckelman and Curiosity in the 18th-century Gentleman’s Library, ed.Katherine Harloe, Cristina Neagu, and Amy C. Smith, 70-89. Oxford: Christ Church Library, 2018.

During the latter half of the eighteenth century, the Neoclassical style developed in England. This style, present in everything from architecture to decorative arts, was largely influenced by the English rediscovery of Antiquity through the Grand Tour and proclaimed a heritage of Western culture, at the time perceived to be the pinnacle of civilization. It was during this period that Josiah Wedgwood developed his celebrated black stonewares, coining them “Black Basaltes” in 1768.

Staffordshire potteries had been making black ceramic vessels throughout the eighteenth century using reddish brown clay that was fired around 1,200 degrees Celsius. Potters would add a coloring agent known as “carr” derived from iron residue in mine drainage. During the firing process, the clay would turn black. They termed their wares ‘Egyptian black.’ The 1760s saw the successful experimentation of purely black wares. Innovators such as Josiah Wedgwood added manganese to the clay to create an even richer black color.

Black basalt pottery was created during the height of the Grand Tour. Beginning in the seventeenth century and lasting through the nineteenth century, the Grand Tour took the English into the Continent to experience the seat of Western culture in the Italian peninsula. Tourists often had an education in the Classics, which made travel to ancient sites such as Rome and Naples popular. These Classical sites welcomed travelers who in turn picked up inspiration from Antique architecture and artifacts, then brought it back to England to incorporate into new designs. The Antique style was disseminated through publications and catalogs, most notably Sir William Hamilton’s 1766 catalog entitled Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman antiquities. Other seminal catalogs of Antiquity included Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’Antiquite Expliquee et representee en figures (1722) and Count Caylus’s Receuil d’Antiquites Egyptiennes Etrusques, Greques et Romaines (1761). The major British designers owned their own copies of these texts, including Josiah Wedgwood.

Wedgwood saw the potential of “Black Basaltes” because of their connection to Italy. Indeed, the very name “black basalt” is connected with the Italian peninsula through its reference to volcanic rock: “The choice of the name ‘Black Basalt’ for this type of ceramic was no doubt influenced by the so-called basalt controversy over the disputed volcanic origins of the black basalt rock” (Jenkins & Sloan, 1996: 182). Southern Italy was home to the famous Mount Vesuvius, which was a popular Grand Tour destination for classicists and natural historians alike. Classicists were interested in the newly unearthed artifacts at Pompeii and Herculaneum, which had a marked influence on the present spill vases, discussed in detail below. Natural historians and amateur scientists were interested in the Neapolitan environment, which experienced six volcanic eruptions throughout the eighteenth century. Possession of these vases would show the worldliness of its owner through its implicit reference to both Antiquity and to Italy. Diana Edwards explains that black basalt was the perfect medium to express taste:

“The technology of the basalt fabric was in the incubus; the past, forged by a social elite anxious to protect its authority by reference to Antiquity, provided the iconography, and the rise of a prospering middle class provided the market. The prospering of all classes clamoured for urns, cassolettes and garnitures of vases for chimney-pieces (Edwards 1994: 34).”

The spill vases feature many Neoclassical details which fit the gout etrusque style of that period. The gout etrusque “[dedicated] itself to a more scientific study of antiquity and to forge a revised image of it,” and “relied upon naturalistic ornamental motifs and chimerical figural inventions, arranged in mirror image around a central axis” (Ottomeyer 2004: 19-20). The decorative elements, made with a mold and then attached to the ceramic body, include a swirling border of stylized acanthus leaves that encircles the vessels. The scenes on the bodies show “excerpts” from Apollo and the nine Muses, a design attributed to John Flaxman and inspired by or even possibly copied directly from Sir Hamilton’s catalog. It is interesting to note the artisan’s sampling of this Classical subject: only three of the nine Muses are depicted. The other six Muses’ omission demonstrates the Neoclassical spirit of adapting Antique designs for contemporary aesthetic needs. Wedgwood in particular worked in this way. Figures could be selected by the designer to fit his vision of a particular object. The decorations’ interchangeability enabled the factory to quickly produce items that were unique and of high-quality at little expense and effort.

These spill vases, an homage to Western culture with references to Antiquity, would have been at the height of fashion in the early nineteenth century. As their provenance is unknown, we can only speculate about the previous owners, who were likely upper-middle class (black basalt, while not inexpensive, was more affordable than silver, which was the other popular medium for Neoclassical wares). Regardless of the economic status of its owners, however, it is clear that the vases were used to convey a social elitism. The technologically innovative new medium of black basalt, the Classical iconography, and the connection to the aristocratic Grand Tour all worked to turn these vases into a symbol of status, taste, and refinement for its owner.

BT

Excellent. On one vase, a small imperfection to a tree leaf measuring approximately 0.3 cm in length.

For a detailed condition report, please contact us.

Edwards, Diana. Black Basalt: Wedgwood and Contemporary Manufacturers. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1994.

Hancarville, Pierre d’. Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman antiquities from the cabinet of the Honourable William Hamilton. Naples: 1766. Design illustrated vol. 1 fig. 55, form illustrated vol. 2 figs. 46-47.

Jenkins, Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan. Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and His Collection. London: British Museum Press, 1996.

Ottomeyer, Hans. “The Metamorphosis of the Neoclassical Vase.” In Vasemania: Neoclassical Form and Ornament in Europe, ed. Heather Jane McCormick and Hans Ottomeyer, 15-30. New York: The Bard Graduate Center, 2004.

Pickering, Nicola. “‘The beautiful spirit of antiquity’: Pompeii and Herculaneum as inspiration for Neoclassical interior schemes in eighteenth-century Europe.” In Winckelman and Curiosity in the 18th-century Gentleman’s Library, ed.Katherine Harloe, Cristina Neagu, and Amy C. Smith, 70-89. Oxford: Christ Church Library, 2018.

This item ships free to the continental US, and globally for a flat-rate fee of $75.

All objects are packed with utmost care by our team of expert fine art shippers. All items are shipped with parcel insurance.

For more information on our shipping policies, please visit our FAQ Page.

All of our objects look even more stunning in person!

However, in case you are not satisfied with your purchase, we are willing to accept returns.

For more information on our return policies, please visit our FAQ page.

This item ships free to the continental US, and globally for a flat-rate fee of $75.

All objects are packed with utmost care by our team of expert fine art shippers. All items are shipped with parcel insurance.

For more information on our shipping policies, please visit our FAQ Page.

All of our objects look even more stunning in person!

However, in case you are not satisfied with your purchase, we are willing to accept returns.

For more information on our return policies, please visit our FAQ page.