Britannia Triumphant, attributed to John Flaxman, Jr., for Wedgwood, 1798-1804
Since 1759, Wedgwood has been a major pottery manufacturer that set the standard for fashionable English dinnerware and decorative objects. High-quality manufacturing techniques and workmanship set Wedgwood apart from other English potteries of the time and rivalled those used by the porcelain manufactories in Sèvres, France, and Meissen, Germany. The Birmingham Museum of Art owns the second-largest collection of Wedgwood in the world, with works ranging from the company’s founding to the present day.
One of the Museum’s most important Wedgwood works is Britannia Triumphant, which celebrates the victories of the English navy over revolutionary France. The Prince of Wales, the future King George IV, received this original sculpture made of white and blue jasperware as a gift. An allegorical figure representing Great Britain, called Britannia, sits on a globe decorated with the zodiac; various symbols representing England and its navy surround her. The British lion watches over a female figure representing France, who has fallen and dropped her torch in defeat. Below Britannia a cornucopia overflows with various foods from across the British Empire. To Britannia’s left sits a model of a ship with the figurehead of the British lion and a cannon and cannonballs, standard artillery for naval battles. The shield of England, emblazoned with the Union Jack, rests on Britannia’s lap, and she holds a medallion of King George III in her left hand. Her right hand once held a large trident, now missing.
The sculpture once sat in a large white jasper temple on a high barrel of blue jasper, with medallions of four British Admirals who won decisive victories against France: Viscount Adam Duncan (Battle of Camperdown, 1797); Earl Richard Howe (Glorious First of June, 1793); Earl John Jervis (Battle of St. Vincent, 1797); and Earl Horatio Nelson (Battle of the Nile, 1798).
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This sculpture serves as a memento of the victories of England over their longtime French rivals, much like the way we buy sports memorabilia today. Here in Alabama, we have one of the most famous sports rivalries in the nation! Do you buy memorabilia when your favorite team wins the game of the season? Do you collect souvenirs celebrating past victories? How do these items fit into your home or your life? Check out these resources, and join the conversation below!