by Anne Forschler-Tarrasch, PhD, Senior Curator and the Marguerite Jones Harbert & John M. Harbert III Curator of Decorative arts
Through the generosity of board member Henry Lynn, the Museum has recently acquired a large snake-handled vase made between 1858 and 1859 by the Minton pottery manufactory in Staffordshire, England. The lead-and-tin-glazed earthenware, or Majolica, vase was decorated by Émile Aubert Lessore (French, 1805-76). Lessore is most familiar to us as a pottery painter at Wedgwood and the Museum’s Beeson and Buten Wedgwood collections include a number of Lessore-decorated objects. We are delighted now to have an example of Lessore’s earlier work. His freehand painting style and his ability to reproduce the works of Old Masters on ceramic objects marked the climax of the Renaissance revival style at Minton during his brief tenure. The images depicted on the vase are drawn from the frescoes created by the Italian painter Domenichino (1581–1641) for the Baroque Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome. These include on one side the Evangelist Luke with the symbol of the ox—a figure of sacrifice, service, and strength—and on the other the Evangelist John with the eagle—a symbol of the sky, or John’s lofty gospel. Paul Atterbury, in The Dictionary of Minton, writes of pottery painted by Lessore and shown at the 1862 London World’s Fair, “notably a pair of snake-handled vases.” Because Lessore’s tenure at Minton lasted barely one year, it is probable that our new acquisition is one of the pair of vases in question. Indeed, because the vase depicts only two of the four Evangelists, there is little doubt that a second vase exists with images of the others. It is now up to us to locate the second vase so that this important pair can be reunited. Let the search begin!
Vase, 1858/59, designed by Alfred George Stevens (English, 1817-1875); painted by Emile Aubert Lessore (French, 1805-1876); Minton Pottery manufactory (est. 1793). lead-and-tin-glazed earthenware (Majolica). Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; purchase with funds provided by Henry S. Lynn, Jr. AFI5.2013