Black basalt

Josiah Wedgwood introduced into production a black stoneware body in 1768. The first trials for Wedgwood's new black body had begun by July 1766, even before the move to Etruria. By September 1767 his experiments were at an advanced stage, ready for production, and less than twelve months later black basalt wares were on the market. He called it ‘Black Basaltes'; we know it as black basalt. Made from reddish-brown clay which burned black in firing, this ceramic body was superior in its appearance to the local 'Egyptian Black' wares produced in the area prior to that date.

Wedgwood's black basalt body owed its richer colour to the addition of manganese, and was used by Josiah in the production of exquisite ornamental wares such as vases, portrait medallions, plaques, library busts and candlesticks. They were mainly inspired by antique originals, many from the vases in the collections that had been amassed by such collectors as Sir William Hamilton. Wedgwood greatly admired what were erroneously known as the 'Etruscan' vase forms and emulated such wares in both shape and applied encaustic enamel decoration.

These new forms of decoration - bronzing, and encaustic painting copying the ancient Greek and Italian vases - needed a smooth surface. Black basalt was the ideal body, and both decorative methods were patented. The encaustic designs were painted on the basalt surface with a brush, and the colours – blue, green, pink, orange and white – were more varied than the simple reds and blacks of the ancient vases they were meant to imitate. Encaustic wares – both ornamental and useful – were very popular.

Wedgwood, with prescience, said of his newly developed body: 'Black is Sterling and will last forever'. Ornamental pieces are still produced in this exquisite ceramic body today.






Black basalt vase with handles terminating in human heads, 1785–95

Black basalt vase with handles terminating in human heads, 1785–95