The Apotheosis of Homer
The bas relief, originally modelled in 1778 by John Flaxman Jr, is sometimes referred to as The Crowning of a Citharist. Flaxman re-interpreted a red figure design which appeared as a decoration on a calyx krater vase, purchased by the British Museum in London from Sir William Hamilton. This original vase was one of the ancient so-called Etruscan vases amassed by Sir William Hamilton when he was resident in Italy. The calyx krater vase is featured in the four-volume work compiled by d'Hancarville entitled Antiquities, Etrusques Grecques, et Romaines (published 1766-67), Volume III, plate 31.
Wedgwood referred to Flaxman's relief model in a letter to his Ornamental Ware partner Thomas Bentley, dated 19 August 1778. Bentley had already interpreted the scene as: '....some honor paid to the genius of Homer'.
Eight years later the bas relief was chosen by Josiah Wedgwood as the principal ornament for his most important jasper vase to date, sometimes known as the Pegasus Vase. The first copy of the vase was produced in February 1786. In May of the same year Wedgwood presented a copy of it to the British Museum, saying of it: '...it is the finest and most perfect I have ever made.'
Various examples of the vase exist in a number of collections. The one on display in the Wedgwood museum is made of white jasper, which has received a mid-blue dip, with white bas-relief figures. A superb specimen of the same subject, in a greenish-buff jasper dip, with the Pegasus or winged-horse finial in white, on solid pale blue jasper clouds, is retained by the Castle Museum, Nottingham.
During the 19th century examples of the vase appeared in black basalt. Subsequently smaller-size versions of the vase were issued by Wedgwood in jasper (of varying colours, usually with white bas reliefs) and in more recent times in black with the raised bas-relief ornamentation enhanced by the addition of exquisite gilding. This form of decoration has its source in the latter decades of the 19th century, when exquisite ornamental wares were made in black basalt with the bas-relief figures enhanced by bronzing and gilding.