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Inspired Design: Encaustic Wedgwood and its Historical Origins

Left: Ancient Apulian Small Volute-krater, c. 380 B.C. (Lot 196, Estimate:
$2,500-3,500). Right: Wedgwood Encaustic Decorated Black Basalt Volute Krater Vase, England, 19th century (Lot 302, Estimate: $5,000-10,000)

The Wedgwood factory’s beginnings coincided with discovering the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and the blossoming of the neoclassical style based on the architecture, art, and artifacts revealed through archaeological excavations. British travelers to the Continent in the 18th century experienced firsthand the excitement of discovery and brought antiquities, reproductions, and artwork home to adorn their residences and museums.

Left: Apulian Red-figured Hydria, early to mid-4th century B.C. (Lot 169, Estimate: $1,500-2,500). Right: Wedgwood Encaustic Decorated Black Basalt Vase, England, 19th century (Lot 311, Estimate: $1,500-2,500)

The collections of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan pottery of the British envoy to the King of the Two Sicilies, William Hamilton (1730-1803), were published, with Wedgwood receiving an advance copy in 1766. The lavishly illustrated folios inspired Wedgwood’s ceramic design. Factory artisans produced wares with encaustic decoration that used red enamel colors to imitate the ancient Greeks’ and Romans’ red-figure painting (patented in 1769) of humans, mythological activities, and highly stylized ornamentation. The forms often paid tribute by imitating their antique predecessors. Vessels used to store, mix, or serve wine and water; amphorae, kraters, hydria, and more.

Hamilton, Sir William (1730-1803), and D’Harcanville, Hugues, Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Honorable Wm. Hamilton His Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary at the Court of Naples, Naples, 1766-67, sold for $110,500

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