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Canopic vase - 1790

The vase in all its glory, ©  Wedgwood Museum
    The vase in all its glory
    © Wedgwood Museum

Black basalt with encaustic decoration copied from Volume II of Bernard de Montfaucon 'L'Antiquité Expliquée' 1719-24. Egyptian canopic vases were made to store the viscera removed during the process of mummification. This vase once belonged to Wedgwood's physician and friend, Dr Erasmus Darwin.

Although in the eighteenth century people had little understanding of ancient cultures, particularly that of ancient Egypt, Wedgwood was an early pioneer in the production of ‘Egyptianised’ wares. This canopic vase in black basalt has been painted with special encaustic enamels. In ancient Egypt a canopic lidded vase was intended to hold the internal organs, or viscera, of the deceased. Here the Etruria factory has produced an interpretation of the canopic vase without the lid, although the shape itself has been faithfully reproduced. Wedgwood drew on a number of archaeological publications for both the design and decoration of his ornamental basalt wares, and a list of ‘Books belonging to W & B the 10th August 1770’ includes a mention of Bernard de Montfaucon’s ‘L’Antiquité Expliquée’. Volume II of the work features an entry of a canopic jar, which inspired both the design and decoration of this Wedgwood vase. The piece formerly belonged to Wedgwood’s friend, the physician and poet Erasmus Darwin.

  • Type of object: Ornamental ware/vase
  • Year produced: 1790
  • Body: Black Basalt
  • Material: ceramic
  • Decoration: encaustic painted
  • Accession number: 4900
  • Dimensions: 320 mm (height), 151 mm (diameter)

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Related people

  • Bernard de Montfaucon Associated

    Bernard de Montfaucon - Associated (1655 - 1741)

    Bernard de Montfaucon was a French scholar whose most celebrated work was ‘L’Antiquité expliquée et representée en figures’ published in five volumes in 1719. Josiah I used this source work particularly for decorative motifs in the Egyptian taste.

  • Erasmus Darwin Owner

    Erasmus Darwin - Owner (1731 - 1802)

    Darwin was a doctor of medicine who practised at Lichfield in Staffordshire from 1756 until he moved to Derby in 1783. He was family physician to the Wedgwood family – and they referred to him as their ‘favourite Aesculapius’ after the Greek god of medicine. His output was prolific and he was also a first-rate scientist and poet. His literary reputation is based on his work ‘The Botanic Garden’, published in two parts in 1789 and 1791. In the epic Josiah’s Portland Vase, Slave Medallion and Sydney Cove Medallion are all mentioned. He was Wedgwood’s closest friend and confidante – after Thomas Bentley – and Josiah sought Darwin’s opinion on many subjects ranging from canals through to education. Darwin was also a founding member of the Lunar Society which Josiah also attended. Darwin’s son Robert Waring married Josiah’s eldest child Susannah (Sukey) in 1796, and amongst their offspring was the controversial English naturalist, Charles Darwin, whose ‘On the Origin of Species’ was to cause great divisions in Victorian society.