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  • Place of origin:

    Etruria (made)

  • Date:

    1770-75 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Vien, Joseph-Marie the elder the first (Comte), born 1716 - died 1809 (designer)
    Wedgwood and Bentley (made)

  • Credit Line:

    Private Collection

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Object Type
This vase is purely decorative and was probably intended for display in a private library or other domestic interior. It was made at a time when vases were enormously popular. Wedgwood exploited and promoted this fashion, boasting of his intention of becoming 'Vase Maker General to the Universe' in 1769. For Wedgwood, the vase form itself had elevated associations. In 1771 he said: 'it is the forms more than the colours of many of the Vases which has raised, & unvulgariz'd them - Make exactly the same pebbles [pottery with mottled glazes like this one] into Tea ware & they are let down to the class of common Pott ware again, many degrees below Queens Ware'.

Design & Designing
Wedgwood based the shape of this vase on a design published in 1760 by Joseph Marie Vien (born Montpelier, France, in 1716, died in Paris in 1809). As a young artist, Vien had won the Grand Prix de Rome which enabled him to spend five years in Rome. This exposure to classical antiquity deeply influenced him and he was to become one of the earliest exponents of the neo-classical taste in France. Wedgwood faithfully copied the basic shape of Vien's design. The glaze of this vase imitates the surface of porphyry or another similar hardstone. In 1770 Wedgwood wrote of his intention to imitate ancient porphyry vases. While the richest nobility could afford to acquire real hardstone ornaments travelling in Europe on the Grand Tour, Wedgwood had the inspired idea to produce more affordable pottery versions for the gentry who were keen to follow the new fashion.

Physical description

Vase of earthenware with a grey-green speckled 'porphyry' glaze and gilding, applied at the shoulder with bearded satyr masks, their horns forming the handles and slotting through the rim. The foot has a brown acanthus leaf border and is set on a black basalt stoneware plinth. The vase and plinth are connected by a metal rod and bolt. Cover lacking.

Place of Origin

Etruria (made)


1770-75 (made)


Vien, Joseph-Marie the elder the first (Comte), born 1716 - died 1809 (designer)
Wedgwood and Bentley (made)


Height: 33 cm

Object history note

Joseph Marie Vien (1716-1809), published an etching by Therese Reboul Vien (his wife), plate 13, which is the source design for this vase in his Suite de Vases composee dans le gout de l'antique, in 1760. According to Clifford (see below) Vien originated from Montpellier and studied painting in Natoire's studio. 'In 1743 he won the Grand Prix de Rome which enabled him to spend five years training in Italy. He returned to France in 1750 but his classical style was not readily appreciated in Paris and it was only in 1754 that he was received into the Academy. Boucher admired his work and David was his most celebrated pupil. In 1775 Vien was appointed Director of the French Academy at Rome where he remained six years before returning to Paris. After the Revolution Napoleon made him a count and a senator'. The original drawing has festoons hanging around the satyrs' horns, looping under their heads and around the sides of the vase, and sprays of vine leaves trailing up the sides from the base.
'Wedgwood and Bentley copied Vien's etching as their 'Number I shape' and the examples first appear c. 1769 'agate' or 'marbled' with parcel gilt ornament (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2387-1901) (pl.82b). The same form was also made in black basaltes hung with foliage festoons (Grant, pl. V,3) and one even appears in George Stubbs' 'The Wedgwood Family in the Grounds of Etruria Hall' where it stands on a table beside Josiah. The variant reproduced in this painting has a drapery festoon in place of the foliage and a medallion applied on the side.'

Descriptive line

Vase of earthenware with a grey-green speckled 'porphyry' glaze and gilded satyr mask handles, on a black basalt plinth, made by Wedgwood, Etruria, Staffordshire, ca. 1770-75.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Reilly, Robin. Wedgwood, Stockton Press, New York, 1989, Vol 1, no. 459, p. 354 for a pair of vases sold by Christie's, London of the same design and porphyry surface decoration, marked ‘WEDGWOOD & BENTLEY, ETRURIA’, and another with mottled glazes in the Laver Collection, no. 460. The source for this design, an etching by Therese Reboul Vien, after a design by her husband, Joseph Marie Vien (1716-1809), is no. 459A. For further examples see no. 481 in the Zeitlin Collection, p.364, and one with 'granite' decoration, colour plate C81 in Merseyside Museums.
The source for this vase design by Vien was first published by Timothy Clifford. Clifford, Timothy. Some English Ceramic Vases and their Sources, Part 1. English Ceramic Circle Transactions, Volume 10, part 3, 1978, pp 159-173 plate 82a. 2387-1901, a vase in the Victoria and Albert museum with mottled glazes is illustrated as (82b). See also pp. 170-171 for information about Vien as a source for Wedgwood and other pottery manufacturers.


Earthenware; Stoneware


Moulded; Gilded

Subjects depicted



Ceramics; Creamware & Pearlware; Myths & Legends


Ceramics Collection

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