Working in wax

With the development of decorative stoneware bodies such as black basalt and jasper, Wedgwood required an increasing number of bas reliefs to decorate his neo-classical products. He employed a number of artists to copy antique designs or to initiate more contemporary sujects. Most of these artists worked in beeswax directly onto a slate slab, glass tablet or glazed ceramic tile, carving away the surplus wax to leave only the design, the wax being so thin in parts as to be transparent.

Wax models were required to be larger, by about one-seventh to one-eighth, than the intended ceramic copy to allow for shrinkage in the firing process. A plaster of Paris mould was then taken from the wax model, after which an initial impression in clay was made. Once fired, this then became the master from which all other moulds were taken.

The original bas-relief models for reproduction were unique works, unlike the commercially available cast-wax models, of which many copies may exist. Wedgwood acquired wax models for producing a wide range of decorative motifs for his ornamental wares from some of the most accomplished modellers, both in Rome and London, as well as from his own employees.

 

Images

Wax on slate, modelled by John Flaxman Jr in 1782 in response to Josiah's request  for 'some group

Wax on slate, modelled by John Flaxman Jr in 1782 in response to Josiah's request for 'some group