Ceramics in Britain (1840-90): Meanings and Metaphors
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The intention of this thesis, “Ceramics in Britain (1840–90): Meanings and Metaphors” is to present new approaches for interpreting ceramics in nineteenth-century Britain by situating, problematizing, and contextualizing pottery and porcelain in the popular debates of the day within the methodologies of material culture, design, cultural and art histories. I ask how did ceramics—portable, functional, and often decorative objects—contribute to shaping modes of experiences? Crockery, tableware and blue-white-porcelain, admittedly largely mediated in texts and paintings, are at the centre of this research to examine how they imposed symbolism and influenced the engagement of their subjects beyond their intended meanings and functions. This thesis tracks a common rhetoric shared by writers and artists across genres and understood by readers and viewers: crockery in the cupboard, on the mantel, the table or the floor were popular motifs exemplifying class, gender, character, etiquette, and taste. This thesis also seeks to map ceramics’ relations with other objects and people depicted. Their meanings and metaphors changed, depending on their exchange with other objects in the room and who uses them. The conventions of representing ceramics dictated a particular grammar that writers and artists used, critiqued, discarded or personalized. The examination of ceramics mediated in text and image especially in comparison with extant objects invites a deeper probing of both material culture and artistic practice, which helps to situate the agency of the ceramic objects themselves. Also this thesis, in attempt to explore new methodological approaches for ceramic studies, examines the social life of the mid-Victorian relief-moulded “Minster” Jug in the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. The product originating in Staffordshire in 1843 and exported to the colonies holds significance due to its multiple life histories. Viewing the “Minster” through the lenses of curator, collector, consumer, and critic its layered lives unfold to reveal the protocols of museum praxis as well as important aspects of mid-nineteenth-century British society related to design reform, gender, imperialism and consumption patterns. This thesis contends that the British experienced ceramics in sometimes unexpected ways, unrelated to their original purpose, such as tools of violence or containers of solace, and transformative fantasy.