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Pegasus Vase

The body of the vase is made of pale blue jasper, and the relief decoration, handles and Pegasus are made of white jasper. Jasper is a type of unglazed stoneware that can be painted before firing. Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-95) had perfected this technique by 1775 after a series of experiments to obtain a new clay body for making gemstones.

Wedgwood made several samples of the Pegasus vase in jasper clay and black basalt. This specimen can be confidently attributed to the eighteenth century. The vase, with its sharp relief decoration on a smooth surface, is a masterpiece of pottery and Wedgwood was very proud to present it to the British Museum in 1786.

The decor of the vase was created for Wedgwood by the artist John Flaxman, Jr (1755-1826). Flaxman used various classical sources; the figures in the main scene are based on an engraving of a Greek vase from the fourth century B.C., and the Medusa heads at the base of the handles are taken from an engraving of an ancient sandal.

This piece, called the Pegasus Vase, exhibits the neoclassical features of Wedgwood's style. Josiah Wedgwood teamed up with businessman Thomas Bentley in 1762 to establish the Etruria factory. Bentley was very interested in the art of the classical Greek and Roman world, which was now "raging" in England after the discovery of Greek vases in Etruscan tombs and the recent excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii. At Wedgwood, Bentley found an artist with technical and design skills to direct the creation of a new line of porcelain based on these classic models. One of Wedgwood's signature lines was "jasper ware," a porcelain body of high-fired clay that he painted with cobalt oxide to produce the delicate blue color we see here. The figurines were applications of translucent white porcelain that were added to the surface of the blue clay at the firing stage and fired.

Pegasus Vase