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Views: 10167 Added: 04/14/2009 Updated: 04/14/2009
The class of spill vase figures and groups, illustrated by the present example, was made in Staffordshire by many, mostly anonymous, potters during the period 1810 to 1835. These objects have overglaze enamel painted decoration, which typically covers most of the visible surfaces, in contrast to the production of the previous period, from 1790 to 1810, where more sparse decoration allows the white ceramic body to contribute to the decorative scheme.

While most Staffordshire figures and groups were purely ornamental, some included a specific household function, or even a didactic message. A vase to hold spills, which were lengths of twisted paper or wood shavings used to light candles, lamps, and pipes from a fireplace before the advent of matches, was a component of some groups. These vases were typically in the form of a tree trunk, which, when open at the top, formed a receptacle for spills as well as a focal point for the figure or group, and additionally often provided support for figures placed before it. Occasionally the large flanking animal figures, usually sheep or deer, were made separately, and merely sat in oval spaces made for them on the base. In the present example, all the figures are fixed to the base. Since the figures were all made from groups of separate molds, one finds these and similar figures in different combinations on different bases.

The subject matter for the group could reflect scenes of country life: a shepherd and shepherdess with sheep, as in the illustrated example; a boy stealing eggs from a bird's nest; or a farmer surrounded by both his domestic animals and wild animals. Some groups illustrate sports such as hunting or horseback riding, while others depict current events, sometime with satirical comments. One example of this last genre is the Tithe Pig group. Here, in accordance with Church policy, a farmer offers a clergyman a tithe, or ten percent, of his pigs, wheat, eggs, and money, while the farmer's wife presents the astonished cleric with her tenth child. A contemporary poem, well known at the time, humorously details the transaction.
Author:   Jim Labaugh and John Tirone
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