Decorative Arts


"Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides" vase, 1785
John Flaxman (England, 1755–1826) (designer for Josiah Wedgwood)
20 x 6 inches in diameter
Harlan E. Moore Charitable Trust, Ruth Miller, Rosann and Richard Noel 1990-8-1

With the opening of his first factory in 1759, Josiah Wedgwood transformed English ornamental pottery from a luxury item for the upper class into a commodity that the increasingly prosperous middle class could afford. In 1782, after ten years of experimentation, Wedgwood introduced jasperware to the public. His most significant contribution to the history of ceramics, it remains in production to this day. Wedgwood's creation and perfection of jasperware coincided with the ascendance of the neoclassical style; the new medium was ideal for the emulation of antique vases.

On commission from Wedgwood, the leading neoclassical sculptor John Flaxman designed some of the most distinctive and successful jasperware. This vase is a notable example because of its elaborate form and decoration. Inspired by a Greek vase he saw in an English collection, Wedgwood asked Flaxman to depict Hercules's labor of gathering golden apples in the garden of Hesperides. Flaxman adapted the painted design of the ancient source to a jasperware vase, the general appearance of which was based on Roman marble urns with figures in carved relief. Roman cameo glass inspired the blue-and-white color scheme, to which Wedgwood added touches of ocher and green. The intricate handles of the vase, shaped like the entwined serpents, are also derived from Roman models.

Decorated with tales from antique mythology, jasperware harmonized well with the classically inspired interiors then popular with leading architects. A shrewd businessman, Wedgwood was sensitive to changing fashions and taste, which, combined with his technical prowess, made of success of jasperware. It became a highly sough-after collectible, elevating English ceramics manufacturing to a position in the marketplace it had not enjoyed before.

Text by Jennifer Langworthy, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008

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