Book Reviews: Beautiful Vases That Keep Their Attraction through the Ages Vasemania Edited by Rieder and Walker,Yale Pounds 40. by Richard Edmonds

Article excerpt

Wherever you turn these days vases keep on popping up all over the place.

In recent weeks I noted large quantities of vases at reduced prices on sale at the Royal Worcester Porcelain works in Worcester. The sale areas on the day I visited were thronged with people queuing up to buy all kinds of vases - some with flowers painted on them others with Christmas motifs.

And at a July Sotheby's sale of European and British ceramics in London vases again were making big money. I particularly admired a rare pair of 16th century, finely painted Majolica vases in blue and white classical patterns which soared up to a final price of pounds 62,400. And in these financially unstable times, the same vases will probably bring their new owner a profit within five years.

So where did it all start? Vasemania takes the rare subject of the vase and reminds us that when the ancient sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii were excavated in the 18th century - at a time when the Grand Tour was showering Europe with well-heeled aristos like confetti, all of them anxious to bring back classical treasures for stately piles back home - the style and beauty of these excavated pieces left would-be purchasers inawe at their exquisite design yet they were thousands of years old.

And yet, curiously enough, the Sotheby's vases would probably have been considered in comparison as things of little worth. Nice - but not old enough, most people would have said.

Yet the fashion was set and it still goes on today. This lavishly illustrated book with its wealth of old prints and fine porcelain, drawings and photographs of stately homes, shows how the classical vase motif turned up all over the place in Europe.

Knife boxes in the shape of classical urns carved in mahogany were a favourite thing in great houses, and then there were ink wells, perfume burners, fabrics, silver tableware, marquetry which embellished fine furniture; there were works on paper, not to mentionwallpaper covered with vases; there was porcelain from all the great factories, Chelsea, Derby, Worcester and Copeland. …