British Museum collections, £12.99
Height: 13.600 cm (including
Width: 21.800 cm (including handles)
Pair of vases painted in the encaustic technique
England, Staffordshire, Etruria, Wedgwood, about 1810, marked WEDGWOOD and other workmen's marks
The shape of these vases imitates the ancient Greek kantharos, a type of goblet used as a drinking cup. The hand-painted acanthus and husk decoration is based on motifs found on Greek vases in the collection of Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803) which were published by Baron d'Hancarville from 1767. The motifs remained popular for many decades as decoration on Wedgwood products, which were instrumental in promoting the classical revival style in the late eighteenth century.
The vases are made of 'black basalt', a fine-grained stoneware perfected by Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-95) in the 1760s. Wedgwood marketed products in this style as the 'Etruscan' range and then as 'basalt' ware in the first factory catalogue of 1773. The Wedgwood factory produced ornamental objects in this range, including vases, plaques, busts, medallions and cameos and intaglios, usually decorated in the classical style and highly polished.
Wedgwood's patent for the encaustic decorative technique seen on these vases dates from November 1769. The process involved painting in matt colours onto the fired basalt body, usually to imitate Greek red-figured vases. To achieve the 'Etruscan colours' that the 1773 catalogue describes, the fluxing agent was omitted so that the colours were 'burnt in, smooth and durable but without any glassy lustre'.
R. Reilly, Wedgwood (London, Macmillan, 1989)
A. Dawson, Masterpieces of Wedgwood in th, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)