Pair of 'Moon Flasks' decorated by Thomas Mellor for Minton & Co.

Stoke-on-Trent, England, AD 1879

Porcelain vases with cameo heads inspired by engraved gems in the British Museum

The profile heads on these vases are loosely based on two engraved gems in the British Museum. One, a cameo, depicts the Roman emperor Augustus (27 BC - AD 14) and is thought to date to the sixteenth century. Mellor has added hunting mementoes, with a hunting scene below. The other, an intaglio, shows a character from Greek mythology, Medusa, who was one of the three Gorgons slain by Perseus. Medusa's head was covered with writhing serpents and she had the power of turning anyone who looked on her to stone. The intaglio is known today as the 'Strozzi' Medusa, after the collector who owned it in the eighteenth century.

The form of the vases is inspired by Chinese pilgrim bottles, reflecting the eclectic mix of cultural and historical sources typical of Victorian design. They are decorated using pâte-sur-pâte, an elaborate technique which involved building up layer upon layer of white liquid porcelain into delicate low relief images. The technique was originally developed at the Sèvres factory in Paris, and introduced at Minton during the 1870s by the French designer, Marc Louis Solon (1835-1913), who passed on his skills to British craftsmen, such as Thomas Mellor, whose signature appears on each vase. Because of the amount of labour involved, pâte-sur-pâte pieces were always very expensive. The cost of producing these pieces was estimated at £4 11s. 10d., a considerable amount of money during the 1870s.

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Pair of 'Moon Flasks' decorated by Thomas Mellor for Minton & Co.

  • Intaglio impression

    Intaglio impression

  • Cameo of Augustus

    Cameo of Augustus


More information


H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the engraved gems (London, 1926)

P. Atterbury, and M. Batkin, The dictionary of Minton (England, Woodbridge, Antique Collectors' Club, 1982)

B. Bumpus, Pâte-sur-pâte: the art of cera (London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1992)

J. Rudoe, Decorative arts 1850-1950: a c, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

J. Jones, Minton: the first two hundred (Shrewsbury, Swan Hill Press, 1993)


Height: 260.000 mm

Museum number

M&ME 1993,10-11,1-2



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