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Swan's neck vase in Black Basalt - 1785

Swan's neck vase in Black Basalt
    Swan's neck vase in Black Basalt

This Black Basalt encaustic-painted vase is one of a pair in the Wedgwood Museum's collections. The vase's handles are moulded in the form of the heads and necks of swans. The encaustic enamel decoration features figures on the front of the vase and anthemions on the reverse. The scene depicted was taken from a classical vase in D'Hancarville's engraved catalogue of Sir William Hamilton's collection. ~It was made between 1785-90.

This Black Basalt encaustic-painted vase is one of a pair in the Wedgwood Museum's collections. The vase's handles are moulded in the form of the heads and necks of swans. The encaustic enamel decoration features figures on the front of the vase and anthemions on the reverse. The scene depicted was taken from a classical vase in D'Hancarville's engraved catalogue of Sir William Hamilton's collection. ~It was made between 1785-90.

  • Type of object: Ornamental ware/vase
  • Mark: WEDGWOOD
    2
    [Impressed]
  • Year produced: 1785
  • Body: Black Basalt
  • Glaze: unglazed
  • Material: ceramic
  • Decoration: encaustic painted
  • Accession number: 1148
  • Dimensions: 260 mm (height), 190 mm (width, handle to handle)

Other images

Related people

  • Sir William Hamilton Associated

    Sir William Hamilton - Associated (1731 - 1803)

    Sir William Hamilton, KB, PC FRS was a Scottish diplomat, antiquarian, archaeologist and vulcanologist. After a short period as a Member of Parliament, he served as British Ambassador to The Two Sicilies from 1764 to 1800. He studied Mounts Vesuvius and Etna, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society and recipient of the Copley Medal. He is perhaps best known as being the cuckolded husband of Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Admiral Lord Nelson.

  • Pierre-François Hugues d'Hancarville Associated

    Pierre-François Hugues d'Hancarville - Associated

    An amateur art dealer who introduced William Hamilton to the Porcinari family, whose collection of antiquities Hamilton purchased to form the basis of the collection that was subsequently sold to the British Museum. With Hamilton he edited Les Antiquités d'Hancarville published in 4 volumes in 1766-67, a collection of vases and other antiquities from the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii. It was influential in informing the emerging taste for neoclassicism and inspired reproductions from pottery manufacturers such as Wedgwood. In 1769 Hancarville was forced to flee his creditors in Naples.

Glossary

  • Anthemion

    Anthemion

    A stylised form of honeysuckle, often used as part of the neo-classical decoration that was prevalent in the last quarter of the 18th century.

     

  • Black Basalt

    Black Basalt

    A fine-grained black stoneware body, composed of ball clay, calcined ochre and manganese oxide. Josiah Wedgwood developed black basalt in 1768 to replace the earlier ‘black Egyptian’ ware produced in Staffordshire in the mid-eighteenth century. 

     

    Basalt was described by Josiah Wedgwood as ‘A fine black Porcelain, having nearly the same properties as the Basaltes i.e., the mineral rock', resisting the Attack of Acids; being a Touch-stone to Copper, Silver and Gold, and equal in Hardness to Agate or Porphyry'. It was the result of his experiments to perfect fine-grained stoneware suitable for the production of ornamental pieces, one that would complement the neo-classical styles then coming into vogue. It is probable that Wedgwood was experimenting with a basalt body in September 1767. He wrote to Bentley, ‘I am still going on with my tryals, & want much to shew you some of them'. Certainly within 12 months Basalt was generally available. From 1773 Wedgwood's plain-black body became universally known as ‘basaltes'. Both ornamental and useful wares were produced in this versatile body and it was used to make virtually anything the public required. Wedgwood placed great confidence in his material, predicting that ‘Black is Sterling and will last for ever'.

    Black clay was derived from ‘Carr', an oxide of iron suspended in the water that had flowed through coal seams and mines. This was drained and dried and then sold by the cartload to potters for use in the production of basalt pottery. Wedgwood made no secret of his recipe for Basalt, which he recorded on page 236 of ‘Common Place Book I. The entry is dated 1777, and reads:

    ‘Our Black Basalt Body. 80 of ball clay sifted 80 of Carr [ochre] calcined & ground 9 of manganese. The above is one Blending.'

    When these ingredients were fired together at a high temperature they vitrified into a fine-textured black body. The distinctive colour of Wedgwood's basalt, which has a deep purplish-black hue, is due to the high proportion of manganese included in the formula.

     

     

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