A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Minton's Majolica Prometheus Vase


Of all the pieces of majolica Minton created for its regular production line, one piece stands above the rest: the Minton majolica Prometheus Vase. The sheer presence of the four foot piece is stunning in its magnificence. In our 30 year career of buying majolica we have seen five of these for sale. Three of these vases had glazed grounds of clear Minton turquoise with the captives, eagle and Prometheus figure in full color. Two examples had the detailed hand painting created for exhibition pieces. Even the one example we saw which lacked its lid—and therefore its Prometheus figure—was quite imposing in its beauty.

Prometheus Bound by Peter Paul Rubens
The vase recounts the unsavory tale from Greek mythology of the punishment of the god Prometheus. The Titan stole fire from Mount Olympus and brought it to mankind. In revenge Zeus had Prometheus bound to a mountain rock and sent an eagle to eat the liver of the captive god. As Prometheus is immortal his liver regenerates every night only to be plucked out again the following day. The neck of the vase is decorated by four bound captives modeled after Italian 16th Century Venetian originals. The base has a wreath of laurel intertwined with snakes.

Designed by Victor Etienne Simian for Minton, a pair of the vases were first shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. This pair with painted decoration of a boar hunt by Thomas Allen was an imitation of the maiolica of the 15th Century.

In 1876 Minton exhibited an example with metallic decoration, simulated ivory figures and an azure ground at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.

Prometheus Vase with metallic
decoration in the Manchester Museum

A turquoise example in full color majolica glaze came up for auction recently in Pennsylvania.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has an example with sgraffito decoration by Silas Rice done in the ancient Greek manner.

Originally quite expensive, the vase was considered the Rolls Royce of Minton's line when it was new and remains so today. Consequently there are not that many available for sale. Should you be interested in buying one they have brought between $11,000 and $40,000 for turquoise examples and up to $100,000 for the hand painted ones. A turquoise example without the lid sold in Atlanta a few years ago for $5,000.

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