In Depth: The Statues of the People

Earlier this year we made five ornament and shape books available to view online, including two volumes dedicated to figures. Having consulted these volumes during her research into Dannecker’s Ariadne on the Panther, art and architectural historian Johanna Roethe was kind enough to write about Minton’s Parian figures – focusing particularly on their reproductions of Ariadne and Una and the Lion – for the site’s expanding In Depth section.

The Statues of the People: Minton’s Parian Ware Figures

Johanna Roethe · 4 minute read

In the mid-nineteenth century, Minton was one of the leading producers of objects in a new material known as ‘Parian ware’. This was a type of unglazed, smooth and highly vitrified porcelain, which was first developed in the 1840s by several manufacturers, especially Minton and Copeland. Minton called the material ‘Parian’ to underline its resemblance to marble from the Aegean island of Paros. In fact, it was this sculptural quality which made it particularly suitable for small reproductions of famous works of art, which in 1859 were described by The Art Journal as ‘the statues of the people’.

Small groups and figures, obtainable at a moderate cost, are the statues of the people.

From “The Corridor of Statuary-Porcelain at Alderman Copeland’s, New Bond St.”, The Art Journal v.21 (1859)

Between about 1846 and 1910, the Minton ceramic factory produced over 500 different designs for Parian figures, including busts, replicas of well-known works, and newly commissioned pieces. Objects in the new material were promoted by the Art-Union movement and Felix Summerly’s Art-Manufactures, a venture by Henry Cole, the director of the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A Museum), which aimed to bring together art and manufacture.

Ariadne and the Panther, RCIN 52319, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

Two particularly successful Parian figures by Minton were also marketed by Felix Summerly: Ariadne on the Panther and Una and the Lion. The Ariadne was a small copy of a famous German statue completed in 1814 by the Stuttgart court sculptor Johann Heinrich von Dannecker, which had already been reproduced in Germany as small-scale souvenirs. The Una was a new creation by the sculptor John Bell, who regularly worked for Minton, based on the tale in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene of 1590. Both statuettes were first produced by Minton in 1847 and, thanks to Cole’s efficient marketing, became instantly popular. By the end of October 1847, shortly after they entered production, Joseph Cundall of 12 Old Bond Street, the main outlet for Summerly’s productions, had sold all of his copies. The Ariadne was produced in two sizes (pattern number 138 at 7.5 inches high, and pattern number 163 at 14.5 inches high) and the larger one was marketed as a pair with the Una (pattern number 184). This pairing was underlined by the subtitles coined by Cole: ‘Purity’ for Una and ‘Voluptuousness’ for Ariadne. The earliest price list for Minton’s Parian figures of 1852 shows that the small Ariadne was priced at £1, the large version at £2 and the Una at £2 16s (SD 1705/MS1639). All three patterns are recorded in the Minton pattern books, in hand drawings (SD 1705/MS1587) and in black and white photographs (SD 1705/MS1639 and SD 1705/MS1641).

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert helped the popularity of the new material by acquiring and commissioning a number of Parian items. For example, in autumn 1847 Cundall was summoned to Windsor where he presented the Summerly items to the Queen, who ‘was pleased to become the purchaser of all the more important works of the series’. This occasion may have included the purchase of Ariadne and Una, which today can still be found in the Audience Room at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. But the success of the Minton figures also spawned pirate copies: One such pair without any maker’s mark can be found in the entrance hall of Brodsworth Hall, a Victorian mansion in South Yorkshire.

Una & the Lion, RCIN 41773, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

The pair of statuettes would also have been found in numerous middle-class homes, although these are less well documented than the collections of grand country houses. They remained popular into the early twentieth century and the Una formed part of a special order as late as 1917. The enduring appeal of this pair of Parian figures demonstrates the resounding success of Minton’s ‘statues for the people’.

About the Author

Johanna Roethe is an art and architectural historian working for Historic England. She has a special interest in the display and reproduction of nineteenth-century sculpture and her article on Dannecker’s Ariadne was published in 2017 in the Sculpture Journal.