Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Ceramics, Room 145

Polito's Menagerie

Figure Group
ca. 1830 (made)
Place Of Origin

This splendid mantelpiece ornament is probably the most celebrated and certainly the most elaborate of early nineteenth-century Staffordshire figure groups. It represents a high point in quality and elaboration of those models made for a wide market before makers increasingly concentrated on the very much cheaper 'flatbacks' (figures with only rudimentary details on the reverse, made using fewer and simpler moulds). Although made of earthenware, an inexpensive material, all the figures and architectural components would have been formed in separate two-part moulds, then carefully assembled by a 'repairer' before firing and decoration with painted and sponged enamels, so the group would have been relatively costly to produce.

The subject is the entrance of one of the famous travelling menageries of Stephen Polito. Polito was briefly the owner - between 1810 and 1814 - of Britain's most celebrated menagerie, which had been established by the self-styled 'modern Noah' Gilbert Pidcock in the Strand, London. Polito's family continued to tour and exhibit animals under the Polito name during the 1820s and 1830s, chiefly abroad. The banner may show the elephant Chunee, Pidcock's star attraction, which was admired by Lord Byron but which killed his keeper and was destroyed in 1826.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Moulded lead-glazed earthenware, painted in enamel colours
Brief Description
Figure group, Polito's Royal Menagerie..., moulded lead-glazed earthenware, painted in enamel colours, England (Staffordshire), ca. 1830
Physical Description
A large group entitled Polito's Royal Menagerie of the wonderfull Burds and Beasts from most parts of the World. Lions etc, and showing the front of a travelling menagerie with musicians and a door keeper, under a large sign showing animals and birds. Moulded lead-glazed earthenware, painted in enamel colours.
Dimensions
  • Height: 32cm
Credit line
Purchased through the Julie and Robert Breckman Staffordshire Fund
Subjects depicted
Summary
This splendid mantelpiece ornament is probably the most celebrated and certainly the most elaborate of early nineteenth-century Staffordshire figure groups. It represents a high point in quality and elaboration of those models made for a wide market before makers increasingly concentrated on the very much cheaper 'flatbacks' (figures with only rudimentary details on the reverse, made using fewer and simpler moulds). Although made of earthenware, an inexpensive material, all the figures and architectural components would have been formed in separate two-part moulds, then carefully assembled by a 'repairer' before firing and decoration with painted and sponged enamels, so the group would have been relatively costly to produce.



The subject is the entrance of one of the famous travelling menageries of Stephen Polito. Polito was briefly the owner - between 1810 and 1814 - of Britain's most celebrated menagerie, which had been established by the self-styled 'modern Noah' Gilbert Pidcock in the Strand, London. Polito's family continued to tour and exhibit animals under the Polito name during the 1820s and 1830s, chiefly abroad. The banner may show the elephant Chunee, Pidcock's star attraction, which was admired by Lord Byron but which killed his keeper and was destroyed in 1826.
Bibliographic Reference
Object Information File C.128-2003: extract from Pat Halfpenny and Stella Beddoe, Circus and Sport, Kentucky, 1990, pp. 7-8; and from Myrna Schkolne, People, Passions, Pastimes and Pleasures, Staffordshire Figures, 1810-1835, 2006, pp.102-105.
Collection
Accession Number
C.128-2003

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record createdNovember 14, 2003
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