James Tassie (1735–1799)

James Tassie was a glass-paste cameo-maker who excelled at his trade. From 1769 onwards, when he moved to London, Tassie and Wedgwood enjoyed both friendly rivalry and co-operation, perhaps initiated by Thomas Bentley. Tassie had premises near Wedgwood’s showrooms in Great Newport Street and they exchanged models and purchased each other’s products. Josiah acquired some of Tassie’s portraits – he produced over 500, many modelled from life. Tassie was also commissioned to take plaster moulds of the Portland vase, some of which survive.

The moulds provided by Tassie to Wedgwood produced many of the intaglios and cameos which were a large part of Wedgwood’s jasper production. The initial difficulties of firing large pieces made this a practical option. Intaglios, in which the design is carved into a flat surface, were used for seals, either mounted in holders or set into rings. Production started in 1769, and soon there were 1,700 subjects on offer.

 Cameos, where the design is in relief, were described by Josiah in his 1779 Catalogue of Ornamental Wares as suitable for rings, buttons, lockets, bracelets and inlaying into furniture. However, they came to be used in an even greater variety of ways than Josiah enumerated: on clock cases and pendulums, chatelaines, watch cases and keys, snuff-, patch- and work-boxes, needle- and toothpick-cases, writing desks and sword hilts, metal vases, urns and lamps, perfume bottles, opera glasses and coach panels.

Cameos for personal use might be mounted in cut-steel or ormolou settings. Men adorned their coats with large, gaudy jasper buttons, their shoes with jasper-set buckles. Women decorated their costumes with brooches and dress-buckles, while wearing bracelets, earrings, necklaces, rings and lockets, all inset with Wedgwood cameos.



Wax classical heads on white glass, James Tassie, c.1769

Wax classical heads on white glass, James Tassie, c.1769