Chelsea porcelain 'Cleopatra' vases

Chelsea porcelain Cleopatra va

Death of Cleopatra

The Death of Harmonia

The Death of Harmonia

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

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

The Death of Cleopatra

These vases are painted over the glaze in enamel colours against a dark blue ground with the Death of Cleopatra after a painting by Gaspar Netscher (1639-84) engraved by J.G. Wille (1715-1808) and the Death of Harmonia after Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre (1713-89).

Harmonia, shown on one vase in the act of killing herself, was the child of Mars (Mark Antony's patron god) and Venus (Cleopatra's patron goddess), and so stands for Cleopatra. The other vase depicts the discovery of the dead Cleopatra by Octavian and Dolabella. The dead woman at her feet is her maid Iras.

The scene of the death of Cleopatra is based on Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (V.2). David Garrick had presented an adapted version of the play at Drury Lane in 1759, but it was not a success. Performances were given throughout the eighteenth century of John Dryden's All for Love (1678), and this may have been how the English public absorbed the story of Cleopatra.

It was without doubt popular, as there are various medallions and figures of the Egyptian queen made by Josiah Wedgwood and others from the early 1770s. By the end of the eighteenth century there was a market in Britain for relatively inexpensive ceramic representations of Cleopatra, some of which may have been exported to North America.

On display: Room 46: Europe 1400-1800