Signed “Geo. Woodall”
The dark blue, almost black plate is overlaid with white opaque glass. The centre depicts the goddess Aphrodite floating in a turbulent sea, with rocks, seaweed, and shells in the foreground and with seagulls flying above. The border is decorated with a band of scallop shells and three trefoil panels, each with a winged cherub.
Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love (known to the Romans as Venus) is depicted at the moment of her birth. According to Hesiod she was born from the foam (aphros in Greek) and emerged fully grown. The story relates that Cronos cut off the genitals of his father, Uranus, and threw them in the sea. The foam gathered around them and was transformed into a woman. When Aphrodite came to land she was attended by Eros (Cupid to the Romans) who is perhaps represented by the cherubic figures around the border.
This plate is a remarkable example of cameo glass, in which the plain dark glass is applied with a layer of white glass (in this case about 1 mm thick). The latter was then carefully and selectively engraved to reveal the contrasting dark glass below. This technique, brought to a high level of excellence in Roman times, was revived in the 19th century by the English firm of J. and J. Northwood, whose works included a copy in glass of the Portland Vase.
George Woodall (1850– 1925) and his brother Thomas were trained at the firm but by the 1870s had moved to the cameo workshop of Thomas Webb and Sons, another successful glass company based at Stourbridge in the West Midlands.The Woodall brothers combined wheel engraving with acid etching to produce an exceptional combination of fine definition and subtle surface texture. On the plate, this is shown to particularly telling effect in the waves and in the seagulls, where their contrast with the clouds behind produces a strong illusion of space and depth.
Woodall was clearly fascinated, obsessed even, by this subject and made a number of plates and other objects on the same theme. An almost identical plate to this was made in 1892 and is the main evidence for dating proposed here. The latter was described in the factory records as “white on blue on claret plaque”. The same triple-layered technique has presumably been used here, since the dark blue, almost black substratum becomes a deep ruby red when held up to the light. Thomas Webb’s price list records that the 1892 plate was retailed for £125 and that Woodall was paid the much lower sum of £42 for his work.
Sir D.J. Tata Collection
European Decorative Art
Diameter 33.8 cm