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The online catalogue does not include details of all our collections. Contact us for further information on collections not yet featured online.

Chinese Ceramic Highlights

  1. Small porcelain dish painted with symbols of longevity and good fortune.

Qing dynasty, Yongzheng period, 1723-1735 1938.P.44

This small porcelain dish is beautifully painted with underglaze and overglaze decoration, all of which is highly symbolic. The interior shows five bats flying between a peach tree and ocean waves. The peach tree is associated with immortality and abundance. Five is a fortunate number and the colour red is associated joy and happiness. The five red bats represent five fortunes variously described as health, prosperity, wealth, happiness and longevity, as well as joy.

The combination of bats and the peach tree is particularly associated with birthdays (‘wufu-qingshou’ – ‘five bats celebrate a birthday’), while the combination of five bats and waves is a wish for great happiness (‘shoushan-fuhai’ -‘happiness like the East Sea is never ending’).

The exterior of the dish is decorated with repeated pairs of red bats alternated with peach branches, one of which has the character ‘shou’, again symbolising longevity.

The base is painted in blue with the reign mark of the Yonzheng Emperor within a double circle

This is one of a number of identical dishes commissioned to wish the Yongzheng Emperor a long life and there are examples in both Chinese and European museums.

The Yongzheng Emperor died at the comparatively early age of 56 and, while there are various stories about his death, it is generally agreed that his death was as a result of poisoning. Ironically this is said to have been through consuming too much of the ‘elixir of immortality’ which contained the poisons mercury and arsenic.

2. Porcelain dish with underglaze blue painted decoration.

Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, 1736-1795. 1938.P.136

The decoration of this dish depicts a mother and child playing in a garden, while on the rim are painted four of the eight Precious Objects: a pair of books, open lozenge, jewel and an artemesia leaf. The same four symbols are painted on the reverse.  This example dates from the period of the Qianlong Emperor but the design had been known in the West since the late 17th century, when large quantities of Chinese porcelain started to be imported into Europe by the East India Companies

This design and variations on it became very popular in England and were widely copied by potters from the mid-18th century onwards. Porcelain factories, such as Bow, in London, and Worcester produced their own finely painted close copies, while factories, such as Spode in Staffordshire, subsequently produced printed version of the design, which they called ‘Jumping Boy’, well into the 19th century.

3. Cylindrical porcelain mug with underglaze blue decoration

Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, c.1780 709

This cylindrical porcelain mug painted with underglaze blue decoration in an example of the type of wares being made in China for the European market in the late 18th century. The shape, and in particular, the crossed handles with their distinctive flowered terminals, are typical of English wares. From the middle of the 18th century the Chinese potteries were exporting such huge quantities of porcelain to Europe via the East India Companies that they were willing to adapt their output to their customers’ requirements.

The body of this mug has a raised spotted-textured ground with a blue-painted landscape with pagoda, trees and etc., in a reserved panel which is framed in gilt and has floral sprays to either side. There is additional gilding to the blue border under the rim with butterflies and flowers, and gilding to the handle terminals and rim.  The gilding would have been added in Europe by a specialist decorator in order to make the mug more desirable to the customer.

4. Earthenware model of a camel with head thrown back.

Tang dynasty, 618-907AD. 1948P94

Earthenware model of a camel in buff-coloured earthenware body with orange and cream glaze, standing, with its head thrown back, on a rectangular base.

Tang dynasty models of camels serve as a reminder of the activity of foreign merchants who, for hundreds of years travelled with their camel trains to trade along the Silk Road, between China and the West. This camel is a funerary sculpture, made to accompany the deceased into the afterlife.  All sorts of figures were produced from animals to human figures and models of buildings, during the period from the Han to the Tang dynasties.

Since they were made to be buried in tombs and not for export, pottery figures like these were rarely seen in Europe until the early 20th century, when they began to be collected by individuals and museums.

23. Madonna and Child

The image of the Virgin Mary (or Madonna) and Christ child are central to traditional Christian imagery associated with Christmas. For his sculpture made in stoneware depicting the Madonna and Child, ceramics artist, Phil Eglin draws upon the devotional images of the Virgin Mary with the infant Christ often seen in Renaissance art.

http://www.artuk.org/artworks/mother-and-child-268878

21 – Reindeer in Staffordshire

Did you know there was a time when you didn’t have to wait until Christmas to see a Reindeer in North Staffordshire?

Reindeer Jaw from Ossom’s Cave, Manifold Valley

The proof can be found among our archaeology collections. In the caves of the Staffordshire Peak District,  in the Manifold and Hamps Valley, archaeologists excavated animal remains dating back beyond 12,000 years ago into the last ice age.

At one cave, Ossom’s Cave, they discovered more than 1,000 bones in one of the older layers. Only four of which weren’t identified as Reindeer remains.

These bones, alongside other species like Lemming and Ptarmigan, are clues to the ice age climate that once gripped much of Britain. As the ice retreated people began to move back into Britain. Reindeer herds offered an important source of food, clothing, and materials for tool making. Hunters probably exploited seasonal migration routes, using caves as shelter. Flint blades from ancient hunters were found at Wetton Mill Rock Shelter and some bones found in the region have potential cut marks from butchering. What would Rudolph say to that!?

20. Snowy Owl

As the name suggests, snowy owls are found in arctic regions, with their white feathers providing camouflage against the snow. Unlike most owls, they are usually active during the day.

They are not often seen in the British Isles, occasionally venturing as far south as the Cairngorms in Scotland during the breeding season, but they have not been found to be breeding in the UK for many decades.

The specimen pictured (named Blizzard) was captive-bred and likely died of a heart attack at her home near Leek. She is currently playing the role of Hedwig in our Potters Lane exhibition in the Local History Gallery.

11. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas…”

In this painting, nineteenth-century artist, John O’Connor, captures a snowy view from the National Gallery in London in 1881.

O’Connor, John; View from the National Gallery; The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/view-from-the-national-gallery-20050

For many of us, snow is synonymous with Christmas – the movies, the songs, Advent calendars and Christmas cards –  although white Christmases are much less common than they used to be in the UK. White Christmases were more frequent in the 18th and 19th centuries, even more so before the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 which effectively brought Christmas Day back by 12 days. Climate change has also brought higher average temperatures over land and sea and this has generally reduced the chances of a white Christmas.

The definition that the Met Office uses to define a white Christmas is for one snowflake to be observed falling in the 24 hours of 25th December somewhere in the UK – 2017 was officially the last white Christmas in the UK, with 11 percent of weather stations recording snow falling.  So depending on where you live you may still wake up to snow falling on Christmas Day this year!

10. The Christmas Star

The Three Kings by David Jones. Engraving, dated 1926.

The words, ‘Omnes de Saba Venient’, are taken from the prophecy of Isaiah in the Bible (Chapter 60:6). ‘All shall come from Sheba bringing gold and frankincense, and showing forth praise to the Lord.’

This print from our Fine Art collection illustrates the story of the wise men from the nativity. After Jesus was born the ‘Christmas Star’ or, the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ appeared to three wise men or Magi. They knew of the prophecy about the coming of a Messiah for the Jewish people, and felt the star was a sign that a special King had been born in Israel.

The star guided the wise men to Bethlehem from their homeland in the ‘East’, which probably refers to the area of modern-day Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It is thought that they reached the Holy family sometime after Jesus’ birth and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In Western Christianity the visit is celebrated on Epiphany which is the 6th January.

This year on December 21st Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer in the night sky to form what is being called a ‘Christmas Star’, but what astronomers are referring to as the ‘Great Conjunction of 2020’. The two planets will look as though they are merging together to form a large bright ‘star’. The last time Jupiter and Saturn were so close together was nearly 800 years ago. It will be visible just above the horizon for around an hour after sunset, so let’s hope for clear skies to get a great view of this celestial event.

6. Christmas Cards

It’s early December and time to write the Christmas cards.

The tradition of sending Christmas greetings goes back a very long way. A letter dating from 1534 is the first known to include the phrase, ‘Merry Christmas’.  The first recorded Christmas cards were actually sent to King James I of England and his son, the Prince of Wales in 1611.

Christmas cards have been popular since Victorian times, when Sir Henry Cole (who was instrumental in establishing the new Post Office in 1840), wanted to make sending post more appealing to ‘ordinary’ people. Before the Post Office was in existence, only wealthy people could afford to send letters by post. The Penny Post was introduced in 1840 which meant that many more people were able to make use of the postal system.  In 1843, Cole and his artist friend, John Horsley, designed their first Christmas card, and sold over 2000 of them for one shilling each.

Queen Victoria started to send ‘official’ Christmas cards during the 1840s and they began to be produced on a much larger scale by the 1860s.  Early British Christmas cards generally depicted non-religious images of flowers and fairies, but later scenes of the Nativity, wintery landscapes and Robins became more popular.

By the early 1900s Christmas cards had also become very popular in Europe, especially in Germany. Worldwide demand continued to increase throughout the 20th Century.  This has declined somewhat in the last 20 years with some people preferring to use new technologies to send their Christmas greetings.

Design for Christmas Greetings card by Barnett Freedman. Lithographic print, dated c.1955.

This is one of several designs for Christmas cards that we have in our Fine Art collections.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, many artists chose to design their own cards to send to friends and family for the festive season.

5. Stockings

Don’t forget to hang up your stockings (or socks) !

Cartlidge, George; Miss Mary Cartlidge; The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/miss-mary-cartlidge-19748

This young girl darning stockings in front of a cosy fire is Mary Cartlidge, daughter of the Potteries artist, ceramic modeller and decorator, George Cartlidge (1868–1961).

The origin of the popular Christmas tradition of leaving stockings out for Santa (or Father Christmas) is attributed to Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas), a Greek Bishop of Myra in the 3rd or 4th century A.D,  who put gold coins in the stockings of three poor sisters. One night, the girls left their stockings drying over the fireplace. Saint Nicholas knew the family was very poor, so he threw three bags of gold coins down the chimney. The money landed in the sisters’ stockings. Since then, children have hung up their Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve, hoping to find them filled with gifts in the morning.

Through the Wardrobe

16/11/2019 – 22/12/2019

Step through the wardrobe and enter the enchanted forest of Narnia frozen in perpetual winter. Stand beneath the lamp-post and see the White Witches sleigh surrounded by some magical objects from the museum’s collections.

Ancient Greeks

Learn about Ancient Greek Myths and Legends and Greek pottery.

Ancient Greeks Fact Sheet

The Story of Demeter and Persephone

The Story of Heracles

The Story of Perseus

The Story of Zeus and Europa

Gods of Ancient Greece

Monsters

Greek Patterns

The Story of the Trojan War

More information on Ancient Greek pottery in The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery collection:
Earthenware kylix or cup with black figure-painted decoration
Earthenware lekythosn or oil flask
Earthenware hydria or water jar decorated with the red-figure technique
Large, earthenware vase in the form of a Greek column-crater