Wedgwood and the Royal Prussian Iron Foundries

/ Spotlight on the Collection

Vase, about 1820, attributed to the Royal Prussian Iron Foundry, Berlin, Germany (operated 1804-1874), cast iron. Museum purchase with funds given in memory of Frederick J. Forschler; and provided by the estate of Janus Elizabeth Y. Ellenburg, Mr. and Mrs. Victor H. Hanson II, and Elisabeth C. Brower, by exchange 2017.36

In the 18th century, the Wedgwood world extended beyond English borders. The influence of the pottery established by Josiah Wedgwood in 1759 reached continental Europe and affected not only the types of objects that European potteries produced, but also played a role in the development of other early industries. The Birmingham Museum of Art houses a large collection of 19th-century German decorative cast-iron objects, in addition to the Dwight and Lucille Beeson and Buten Wedgwood Collections. There is an interesting, yet little known, link between these collections.

This vase is evidence of that. Cast in iron around 1820 by the Royal Prussian Iron Foundry in Berlin, the vase is an exact replica of one by Wedgwood, made during the late 18th century in black basalt, one of Wedgwood’s ornamental ceramic bodies. The vase shows in relief the image of a sacrificial scene populated by figures wearing classical garb. A band just below the shoulder of the vase shows all 12 signs of the Zodiac.

The relationship between Wedgwood and the royal Prussian iron foundries began around 1789, when Friedrich Wilhelm von Reden (1752-1815), a Prussian pioneer in mining and metallurgy, traveled to Britain for a yearlong stay to pursue the study of new English and Scottish iron-working technologies. While there he purchased small Wedgwood jasper medallions and cameos with classical or allegorical scenes. Reden no doubt envisioned that the casting of decorative medallions would be one of the first tasks of the Prussian foundries. The foundries later made larger objects using original Wedgwood wares, like vases, as molds. And in turn, Wedgwood made copies of portrait medallions originally cast by the Prussian foundries, including those of the German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1743-1817) and Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742-1819), illustrating the global nature of art and industry in the 18th century.