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The Romance between Wedgwood and Ancient Pottery

Decorated Greek vases and Roman oil lamps bring us back in touch with the romance of ancient history and archaeology. Wedgwood, with its many classical Roman and Greek reliefs in black basalt and jasper ware as well as encaustic decorated wares, also portrays a certain romance with ancient times. Wedgwood collectors and ancient pottery collectors both love this material culture, and how it is represented in the form of pots, vases, and ornamental wares. It is intriguing to see how the world of antiquities informs and inspires Wedgwood.

Ancient Apulian Small Volute-krater, c. 380 B.C. At auction December 9, 2020, estimate: $2,500-3,500.

Wedgwood artists were influenced by ancient pottery in the forms they chose to work with, including oil lamps, canopic jars and ruined column vases, as well as the subjects they depicted. Popular subjects include classical figures, shapes, architecture, and even the use of hieroglyphs in the Egyptian revival style.

Wedgwood Encaustic Decorated Black Basalt Volute Krater Vase, England, 19th century. At auction December 9, 2020, estimate: $5,000-10,000.

Note the red-figured Greek provincial pelike of the 4th century and the Wedgwood encaustic decorated black basalt vase of the 19th century. Certainly the Wedgwood artist had a pelike similar to this in mind when he painted his vase.

San Antonio Museum of Art displays their ancient pottery alongside their Wedgwood counterparts; it’s amazing just how well they work together. It is my hope that some collectors of antiquities or Wedgwood will follow the museum’s lead and extend or expand their collecting to own complementing examples of the other’s wares.

Hopefully this romance between Wedgwood and ancient pottery will continue and we will see more crossover between the two subjects so very different, yet with so much in common.

Example of a Canopic Jar. Image By Captmondo [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Pair of Wedgwood Dark Blue Jasper Dip Canopic Jars and Covers, England, 19th century. At auction December 9, 2020, estimate: $3,000-5,000.
Wedgwood Gilded Black Basalt Brainstone Vase and Cover, England, c. 1885. At auction December 9, 2020, estimate: $2,000-4,000.
Wedgwood | Ruined Column Vase
Wedgwood Blue and White Jasper Double Ruined Column Vase, England, early 19th century, sold for $5,333 in October 2010.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2012 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Consider Reading : Wedgwood Jasperware: A 10-Point Primer


2 thoughts on “The Romance between Wedgwood and Ancient Pottery

  1. It’s amazing the decorative pieces that were hand made so many years ago were more beautiful than newer pieces created with the latest technology. It’s no wonder these pieces are so rare and worth so much. Thanks for sharing

  2. Having just completed some research on this connection, I would point out that the Wedgwood canopic jar does not look like the Egyptian canopic jar. There is, however, a Roman canopic jar in the Vatican Museums that greatly resembles the Wedgwood piece in shape. This shape is listed in de Montfaucon’s book under the Egyptian section. De Montfaucon’s example came from the La Chausse collection, which I have yet to identify, but it may be an early misrepresentation of a Roman piece. Wedgwood did look at proper Egyptian examples from books by both de Montfaucon and Comte de Caylus, among others. Josiah Wedgwood deserves credit for being ahead of the Egyptian Revival sparked by the Description de l’Egypte in the early 19th century.

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