Our Museum Feature this month is the “Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne” plaque from Wedgwood. A stunning example of neoclassical design, this plaque, dated 1786, is typical of the kinds of plaques produced by Wedgwood to be used as inserts around the fireplaces decorated in the Adam style (an 18th-century interior design scheme that strove to integrate ceilings, fireplaces, furniture, fixtures, carpets, and other interior elements into a unified theme). During this period, Wedgwood produced plaques and other decorative items to embellish these elaborate and detailed Adam interiors.
The “Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne” scene on this plaque shows Bacchus, the god of wine, and Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete, seated in a tiger-drawn chariot. They are surrounded by an entourage of nymphs, satyrs, and other figures as they travel to their marriage bed. Because Greek myths were passed down through oral tradition, several variations of the myth underlying this joyous procession exist. One version is that Bacchus had just gained the love of Ariadne after finding her abandoned on the island of Naxos by her husband, Theseus. After Bacchus discovered her on the shore, he promptly made her his bride, thus the revelry and “triumph” shown here.
Josiah Wedgwood was intensely interested in the 18th-century trend to incorporate Greek and Roman architecture, art, and ideas into buildings, interior decoration, and ornamental objects (what is now called neoclassicism). Wedgwood realized the commercial potential of embracing neoclassical style in his designs, and began manufacturing a range of such products, including plaques, medallions, vases, urns, plates, teapots, jewelry, coffee sets, and trinkets. Many of these items were produced in Jasperware, a non-glazed porcelain featuring classical figures in bas-relief that is virtually synonymous with the Wedgwood name.
Wedgwood’s workshop employed many talented artists and modelers to produce designs for these ornate neoclassical products, and the adaptation of their ideas on Jasperware helped to maintain Wedgwood's position as market leader. The “Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne” scene on our plaque was modeled by Wedgwood artist John Flaxman, Jr., who was, according to Wedgwood Museum literature, “probably the most significant artist employed by Josiah Wedgwood during his lifetime.” Flaxman was responsible for many of the designs found on the finest examples of Wedgwood, including “The Dancing Hours,” “The Apotheosis of Homer,” and “Hercules in the Garden of Hesperides,” among many others. It is also believed Flaxman was the first to draw Wedgwood’s attention to the famous “Portland Vase,” the reproduction of which is considered to be one of Wedgwood’s greatest achievements.
When Josiah Wedgwood died in 1795, none of his children wanted to leave their place in English society to return and manage Etruria, the name given to Wedgwood’s factory and village. Over the next few years, the company began to decline; in order for Wedgwood to survive, the factory would have to undergo a restructuring process. To accomplish this, Josiah’s oldest son, John, returned to the factory in 1800. In 1805, he requested the presence of his younger brother, Josiah II, and the two worked to restore the quality and manufacturing standards held by their father. Under the leadership of the brothers, Wedgwood regained the reputation for quality and craftsmanship that it still holds today.
While the Wedgwood items in our museum are not for sale, Replacements, Ltd. carries a great selection of Wedgwood pieces that are available for purchase. Be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our warehouse facilities (the size of 7 football fields) hold more than 13,000,000 individual pieces in more than 425,000 patterns! Our retail store and Museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. The retail store and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!