Italian Renaissance masterpieces, £19.99
Height: 31.100 cm
Gift of Mr and Mrs Isaac Falcke
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Caneware figure of Voltaire, made by Josiah Wedgwood I and Thomas Bentley
Etruria factory, Staffordshire, England, AD 1779
François-Marie Arouet, called Voltaire (1694-1778) was a celebrated playwright and philosopher in France, who became closely identified with the principles of the Revolution. His body had been refused burial in Paris because of his attacks on conventional religion, but was finally re-interred to public acclaim in the Pantheon in 1791. Voltaire's writings would have been of great interest to Wedgwood's partner, Bentley, who is shown with leather-bound volumes in his portrait by Joseph Wright of Derby. Bentley also established a club, together with Benjamin Franklin, which met at Old Slaughter's Coffee House in St Martin's Lane, London, 'for the discusssion of a philosophical ritual'. Wedgwood (1730-95) became a member of this club. Like his partner, Wedgwood was a supporter of liberal thought, although his formal education had ended early.
This unusual caneware figure of Voltaire, with crisp modelling and realistic detail, is based on a small marble dated 1773 by Jean-Claude Rosset, called Du Pont (1703/6-86). Black basalt versions of Voltaire were produced in greater numbers, as the potters continued to experience problems with discolouration to the caneware body.
A. Dawson, Masterpieces of Wedgwood in th, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)