• A business is after all a business and Josiah I was a great entrepreneur. Find out about how Wedgwood both made and exploited the market.

Made to sell

  • by the Wedgwood Museum team

Egyptian-style teapot with crocodile finial

Theme

In ‘Letters from England’ 1807 Robert Southey described how - ‘everything now must be Egyptian’. The craze for Egyptomania reached frenzied proportions following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798, and the Etruria factory exploited the opportunity by not only reviving Egyptian-inspired wares dating to the time of the founder, but also by introducing a new range of rosso antico, and black and red and white wares considered to denote ‘Egyptiana’. These included vases and teawares ornamented with reliefs of hieroglyphic inspiration copied directly from source works such as Montfaucon. The meaning of the enigmatic hieroglyphs remained a mystery until Jean Champollion cracked the code in the 1820s.

Nelson’s heroic victory was celebrated widely in Britain, and Emma Hamilton, Nelson’s mistress, stated that he ought to be made ‘Baron Crocodile’ because of his exploits at Aboukir Bay, scene of the historic naval battle. Some authorities believe that the crocodile finial evolved as a direct result of her pronouncement!

Although Egyptian inspired teawares are a nineteenth century phenomena, the Wedgwood factory had, since the time of Josiah I, produced ornamental pieces with a distinct Egyptian flavour in rosso antico and black basalt.  This was unusual, as Egypt did not really feature on the ‘official’ Grand Tour that most aristocrats and men of influence undertook to further their education.

Catalogue

The Wedgwood factory drew on many design sources for inspiration for classical wares, as well as Egyptian inspired production. In the early years of the nineteenth century red rosso antico ‘Egyptian’ teawares, with either black or white decoration, proved to be very popular - particularly in the aftermath of Nelson’s naval victory at the Battle of the Nile.