Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wedgwood "Pegasus" Vase

22. England, Wedgwood, “Pegasus” vase, 1786, jasperware, John Flaxman (younger).
The Pegasus Vase Etruria factory, Staffordshire, 1786. The body is made of pale blue jasper, and the relief decoration, handles and Pegasus of white jasper. Jasper is a type of unglazed stoneware that can be stained with colour before firing. Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-95) perfected the technique by 1775 after experiments to produce a new clay body for the making of gems. Wedgwood made multiples of the Pegasus Vase in jasper ware and in black basalt. With the sharp relief decoration set against the smooth surface, the vase is a masterpiece of the potter's art, and Wedgwood took great pride in presenting it to the British Museum in 1786. The decoration of the vase was modelled by John Flaxman junior (1755-1826). Flaxman adapted a variety of classical sources; the figures in the main scene are based on an engraving of a Greek vase of the fourth century BC, while the Medusa heads at the base of the handles are taken from an engraving of an antique sandal.D'Hancarville, author of the catalogue of Hamilton's vases, identified the central figure as the ancient Greek poet Homer. D'Hancarville shared contemporary admiration for Homer's genius and his interpretation was widely accepted.Like others, including Johann Winckelmann (1717-68), he believed that the sublime quality of Homer's poetry had transformed the visual arts from their primitive origins to the beautiful naturalism displayed here. Hamilton hoped that his collection would improve the work of artists and artisans in Britain, and this vase did prove to have a considerable influence. John Flaxman (1755-1826) copied the scene for a plaque for mantelpieces and Josiah Wedgwood used it on a jasper ware vase, known as the 'Homeric vase' or 'Pegasus Vase'. Wedgwood donated one of these vases to the British Museum in 1786 and considered it 'the finest & most perfect I have ever made'. (British Museum)
See notes on "Industry in Britain" in this blog.

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