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Chelsea porcelain 'Cleopatra' vases

Death of Cleopatra

  • The Death of Harmonia

    The Death of Harmonia


Height: 19.700 cm
Diameter: 13.300 cm (with handles)

Gift of an anonymous donor through James Empson (1763)

M&ME 1763,4-15,1-2 (Porcelain Catalogue II 28)

Room 46: Europe 1400-1800

    Chelsea porcelain 'Cleopatra' vases

    Chelsea factory, London, England, around AD 1760

    The Death of Cleopatra and the Death of Harmonia

    Chelsea was the first factory in England to make porcelain, probably around 1744. It is likely that the factory was founded by the partnership of Charles Gouyn (died 1785) and Nicholas Sprimont (around 1716-71) and funded by Sir Everard Fawkener (1694-1758), secretary to the duke of Cumberland. Sprimont was a Huguenot silversmith of Flemish extraction and was the owner of the factory from 1756 to 1769. Chelsea wares are usually classified into periods named after the factory marks then in use: these examples were made during the 'Gold Anchor' period (1758-70).

    The vases are made of soft-paste porcelain and are painted and gilded. The scroll handles and finials epitomize the exuberance of the Rococo style in England. The scroll work, dark blue ground colour and extensive use of gilding are inspired by such French examples as those made at the Sèvres factory.

    The Death of Cleopatra is based on an engraving by Johann Georg Wille (1715-1808) after Gaspar Netscher (1639-84), the Death of Harmonia after a painting by Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre (1713-89) exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1751. Harmonia was the child of Mars, Mark Antony's patron god, and Venus, who was Cleopatra's patron goddess through Isis and Aphrodite.

    These vases were the first pieces of porcelain to enter The British Museum. Presented in 1763, only a few years after their manufacture, they are the first contemporary manufactured items to enter the collections.

    B. Dragesco, English ceramics in French arc (London, privately printed, 1993)

    S. Walker and P. Higgs, Cleopatra of Egypt: from histo (London, The British Museum Press, 2001)

    E. Adams, Chelsea porcelain (London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1987)


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    On display: Room 46: Europe 1400-1800

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    Rare prints by the French artist, £9.99

    Rare prints by the French artist, £9.99