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  • Place of origin:

    Derby (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1780 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Derby Porcelain factory (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Soft-paste porcelain painted in enamels and gilded

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by R. E. Jerome

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Ceramics, Room 139, The Curtain Foundation Gallery, case 9, shelf 6

The earliest porcelain figures were made for the dessert course of grand dinners and replaced the sugar paste and wax figures made since medieval times for royal feasts. Originally intended as expressions of dynastic power and to celebrate political allegiances, allegorical themes had been introduced into these table settings by the 16th century. By the 18th century many were entirely decorative.

A convention for depicting the Four Continents as female figures was used as early as the Counter-Reformation to symbolise the worldwide spread of Catholic Christendom. The figures were given wider appeal through their inclusion in the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa, an illustrated book of emblems widely used by artists from the early 17th century. ‘Africa’ was conventionally depicted as a black woman with ‘an Elephant’s Head for her Crest; a Necklace of Coral; and Pendents [sic] of the same, at her Ears; a Scorpion in her right Hand, and a Cornucopia, with Ears of Corn, in her left; a fierce Lion by her, on one Side, and a Viper and Serpent on the other.’ Here ‘Africa’ takes the form of a black child.

Physical description

Figure of Africa, from a set of Continents, in soft-paste porcelain painted in enamels and gilded. The figure of a black boy stands on a circular mound formed by pierced scrollwork. He stands on one leg, with one knee resting on the head of a lion. He wears a coral necklace and a pink and turquoise robe, hanging loosely about the hips. He holds a lobster in one hand and a cornucopia full of corn under the other arm. He wears an elephant's head hat. The side of the mound is inscribed AFRICA in gilding.

Place of Origin

Derby (made)


ca. 1780 (made)


Derby Porcelain factory (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Soft-paste porcelain painted in enamels and gilded

Marks and inscriptions

Written in gilding on the base.


Height: 22.5 cm, Width: 11.2 cm base

Descriptive line

Figure in soft-paste porcelain painted in enamels of a black boy representing 'Africa', Derby, ca. 1780


Soft paste porcelain



Subjects depicted

Lion; Allegory; Boy


Black History; Ceramics; Figures & Decorative ceramics; Porcelain


Ceramics Collection

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