This beautiful blue and white teapot in the British Museum may look like one of Josiah Wedgwood’s iconic jasperware designs, but it was actually manufactured in Germany in the late eighteenth century in imitation of Wedgwood’s work. Jasperware, so called because of the mineral that gives it its colouring, is a stoneware first created by Josiah Wedgwood in the mid-eighteenth century.
Jasperware is unglazed, which gives it a matte finish, and features a coloured background with decoration in white relief. The designs on jasperware commonly, although not always, drew their inspiration from ancient Greek and Etruscan pottery, reflecting the neoclassical movement that reached its peak in the second half of the eighteenth century. This neoclassicism can be seen in the decoration, and indeed the form, of a Wedgwood jasperware vase from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection.
Jasperware was produced in a variety of colours, but the most well-known and popular colour is a background of pale blue, from a rare form of the mineral Jasper. These iconic pieces of pottery became so associated with Josiah Wedgwood that jasperware is often simply referred to as “Wedgwood china.” In fact, jasperware was so popular that European manufacturers had already begun to emulate it by the late eighteenth century, and the teapot from the British Museum is an example of such an imitation. Although the blue on this teapot is darker than the famous “Wedgwood blue”, the matte finish and white decoration in relief unmistakably references designs from the Wedgwood factory. Likewise, although there are no Greek-style figures, the neoclassical swags are a clear reference to the Wedgwood factory’s use of neoclassical elements in its designs.
In this teapot, these ancient Greek influences, arriving in German pottery firms by way of England, meet with a different set of cultural influences: the rise of a culture of tea drinking in Europe was the result of increased trade networks between Europe and East Asia. As such, European pottery firms began to manufacture teapots and tea sets in large quantities to meet the growing demand for this newly fashionable brew. With all of its different socio-economic and artistic influences, this little teapot is certainly a fitting reflection of the global outlook of European culture during the late eighteenth century!
See also: Collectible Wedgwood
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