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Somnus, Wedgwood, about 1774

English Galleries

The prototype for this figure is the sculpture by Alessandro Algardi, now in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Wedgwood had access to it through an engraving in Bernard de Montfaucon’s work L’antiquité expliquée, a popular design source. Made of black basalt, a kind of stoneware, the figure is one of the largest and earliest produced by Wedgwood.

Although Wedgwood called the figure Morpheus, it is today recognized as Somnus, god of sleep. Here, Somnus slumbers peacefully on a rocky base. His wings are draped to one side and his right arm rests above his head. His left hand clutches a bouquet of sleep-inducing poppies. In Roman mythology Somnus is the son of Night and brother of Death. He was considered a benefactor to man, giving the weary rest and sufferers alleviation of their pain.

While this figure was once apparently in serial production, today there are only two extant examples known. In addition to this figure, there is one in Wörlitz Palace in Dessau, Germany. Commissioned in 1774 by Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-Dessau, it still rests in its original location.

Wedgwood (est. 1759)
Staffordshire, England
About 1774
Stoneware (black basalt)
11 1/2 × 22 1/2 × 14 inches
Collection of the Art Fund, Inc., at the Birmingham Museum of Art; The Buten Wedgwood Collection, gift through the Wedgwood Society of New York, 300.2008