This large vase is hand-painted with a scene from the Battle of Waterloo. It comes from a bespoke dinner set given to the Duke of Wellington by the King of Prussia in gratitude for his role in the Allied victory.
Every year at Apsley House in London, Wellington hosted a Waterloo banquet on the anniversary of the battle. While the guests were surviving officers and dignitaries, members of the public were able to line up and view the prepared dining table and the art in his private collection in the days before.
Ceramic commemorative items had become commonplace, but Wellington received four artistically exceptional dinner services from four European monarchs in gratitude for his role in the Allied victory. King Frederick William III of Prussia (1770-1840) commissioned one of these. This bespoke set was made by the Meissen factory in Saxony between 1816 and 1819 and designed to celebrate the Duke’s life and military achievements.
Its centerpiece is a green obelisk that lists his orders and titles. There are also several white biscuit porcelain table statues of gods celebrating his career. What is even more remarkable is the lavishly gilt china, which has engravings that depict places associated with his life and military career.
Each piece is unique. Its coffee service has a milk jug with a scene of soldiers marching in front of the Belle Alliance dairy. The sugar bowl has an image of La Haie Sainte on one side, and of soldiers marching under a tree at The Belle Alliance on the reverse. The plates have places from his life and battle scenes.
The German potters who designed it had to collect aquatints, engravings and watercolours of subjects such as the house in Dublin where the Duke was born and the inauguration of the Waterloo Bridge in London.
The process of transfer printing, which enabled prints to be easily transferred onto porcelain, also allowed them to be altered without difficulty. Consequently, images of dying soldiers were removed from some of the plates showing individual battle scenes in order to make them more palatable for diners at Apsley House.
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This object is in the collection of Apsley House – English Heritage