The Mermaid dish thumbnail 1
The Mermaid dish thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery

The Mermaid dish

Dish
1670-1689 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
Great dishes such as this were probably used in the 17th century as display objects. They perhaps copied more refined dishes of painted delftware (tin-glazed earthenware). After the publication of the Reverend A.E. Downman's Blue Dash Chargers in 1619, the quaint biblical name 'charger' became attached to these objects, whether delftware or slipware (wares of coarse red clay decorated with a white liquid clay known as slip). The striking image of the mythical Mermaid was popular and well known in the 17th century from inn signs. As well as having a strong visual and mystical appeal, it was easily adapted to the shape of the dish.

Social Class
Staffordshire slipwares must always have been relatively cheap. But whereas functional cups and posset pots were probably sold at fairs and taken in wicker panniers on horseback to distant parts of the country, these huge dishes emblasoned with the name of their maker seem to have been made as local advertisements for the (widely varying) skills of their creators. Despite the many surviving examples, they were apparently completely ignored in Staffordshire until Enoch Wood acquired two specimens for his factory museum, which opened about 1816.

Influence
Although such wares were recognised as interesting examples of folk pottery by the time that the South Kensington Museum acquired this piece in 1869, it was only in the 1920s that the writings of the art critic Herbert Read helped to raise them to the level of English Primitive Art. The striking simple image perfectly adapted to its 'frame' on the dish was much admired by early studio potters such as Bernard Leach (1887-1979).


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Lead-glazed earthenware, with trailed slip decoration
Brief Description
Dish, decorated with the image of a mermaid, slip-trailed earthenware, Thomas Toft, England (Staffordshire), ca.1670-80.
Physical Description
Shallow dish, slip-trailed earthenware, 44 cm x 7 cm, decorated with the image of a mermaid.
Dimensions
  • Depth: 7cm
  • Diameter: 44cm
Marks and Inscriptions
'Thomas Toft' (Decoration; on lower section of rim of the dish.; painted)
Gallery Label
British Galleries: This famous 'Mermaid' dish by Thomas Toft shows his masterly control of the slip-trailing technique and a natural sense of design. Little is known of Toft and his contemporary Staffordshire slipware makers, whose main production must have been useful household wares. Large dishes like this may have served as advertisements for such goods.(27/03/2003)
Object history
Made in Staffordshire and signed by Thomas Toft (died in 1689)
Subject depicted
Summary
Object Type
Great dishes such as this were probably used in the 17th century as display objects. They perhaps copied more refined dishes of painted delftware (tin-glazed earthenware). After the publication of the Reverend A.E. Downman's Blue Dash Chargers in 1619, the quaint biblical name 'charger' became attached to these objects, whether delftware or slipware (wares of coarse red clay decorated with a white liquid clay known as slip). The striking image of the mythical Mermaid was popular and well known in the 17th century from inn signs. As well as having a strong visual and mystical appeal, it was easily adapted to the shape of the dish.

Social Class
Staffordshire slipwares must always have been relatively cheap. But whereas functional cups and posset pots were probably sold at fairs and taken in wicker panniers on horseback to distant parts of the country, these huge dishes emblasoned with the name of their maker seem to have been made as local advertisements for the (widely varying) skills of their creators. Despite the many surviving examples, they were apparently completely ignored in Staffordshire until Enoch Wood acquired two specimens for his factory museum, which opened about 1816.

Influence
Although such wares were recognised as interesting examples of folk pottery by the time that the South Kensington Museum acquired this piece in 1869, it was only in the 1920s that the writings of the art critic Herbert Read helped to raise them to the level of English Primitive Art. The striking simple image perfectly adapted to its 'frame' on the dish was much admired by early studio potters such as Bernard Leach (1887-1979).
Bibliographic Reference
Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.
Collection
Accession Number
299-1869

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record createdMarch 27, 2003
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