• Explore the fascinating links between the Wedgwood brand and rulers from all corners and time periods of Europe.

Wedgwood and Royalty

  • by Carenza Price

French Revolution Medallion

Theme

Although Wedgwood was employed and respected amongst royalty and nobility, his Whig tendencies meant he was not a raging royalist. In fact, when the French revolution began in 1789, Wedgwood's liberal opinions led him to welcome the uprising. He famously wrote to close friend Erasmus Darwin saying 'I know you will rejoice with me in the glorious revolution which has taken place in France'. To commemorate what was then seen as a step forward for equality, Wedgwood produced several Revolution medallions.

This medallion depicts the Revolution with allegories, the most obvious being the fleur-de-lis shield hanging on a pillar in the background. The fleur-de-lis was the royal symbol, so the shield was clearly meant to represent Louis XVI, the king at the time of the Revolution. Louis was wildly unpopular and depicting his royal symbol in the background while allegories of revolution, hope, art and labour are in the foreground was a thinly veiled political statement. The fact that the shield is hanging may also be interpreted as a more violent message, or some excellent foreshadowing on Wedgwood's part given that Louis was executed in 1793 (by guillotine, not hanging though).

Wedgwood's initial support of the revolution against Louis XVI must have been strong because the Revolution was a disaster for Wedgwood's business in France. The reign of Louis XVI had seen an ease on restrictions that stopped pottery being imported, which opened up the French market for Wedgwood. The Revolution collapsed France's economy so any trade with France was swiftly ruined. Wedgwood even seemed to be aware of the risk when writing to Erasmus Darwin, as he says 'As a manufacturer I shall be ruined if France has her liberty, but I am willing to take my chance.'

Louis had opened up the French market for Wedgwood and Wedgwood initially had great support for the Revolution against Louis, but as the violence of the revolution became apparent, he shifted his opinion away from supporting the revolutionaries, but maybe not any more favourably towards Louis. 

Catalogue

This blue jasper medallion allegorically depicts the French Revolution in a white relief. The design is adapted from the Sydney Cove medallion to celebrate the French Revolution. The former figure of Peace is now probably intended as Fortuna or Concordia. She is holding a staff surmounted by the Revolutionary Phrygian cap and a shield with the royal fleur-de-lys representing King Louis XVI of France is to be seen on a column in the background. The other allegories are representing Hope, Art and Labour. The medallion is mounted in a wooden frame.