Skip to contentSkip to navigation
Become a Member
Explore today's schedule
Visit MMFA for free by becoming a Member
Learn more
Back
Currently shown
Manufacture de Wedgwood

Medallion

Artist

Manufacture de Wedgwood
Burslem, England, founded in 1759

Title

Medallion

Date

Late 18th c.

Materials

Stoneware

Dimensions

3 x 2.7 cm

Publisher

Modelled by William Hackwood (about 1753-1836)

Credits

Gift of Mrs. Cresswell Shearer, inv. 1949.Dp.15

Collection

Decorative Arts and Design

An extremely important figure in eighteenth-century British decorative arts, Josiah Wedgwood succeeded in making his porcelain factory one of the greatest companies of Great Britain’s early industrial era. He was also an enlightened philanthropist who devoted the final years of his life to promoting the abolition of slavery.


Meeting in London in 1787, the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade commissioned the design of an official seal. The proposal that was approved featured this image of an African man in chains, surrounded by the catchphrase “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” It was a very clever choice of iconography. At first glance, we think we see a man who has been humiliated reduced to begging upon his knees before a cruel master. However, upon closer inspection, it is actually a true Christian shown in prayer—the noblest of poses in Western art—his gaze serenely turned towards heaven. In this way the slave is a child of God among others, which should have been enough to make his condition of bondage intolerable to any Christian in Enlightenment Europe.


Enthralled with this design, Wedgwood had it reproduced on small medallions and arranged their wide distribution amongst the public. Ways of publicizing a just cause, they were worn as rings, brooches and hair ornaments.


In Britain, the abolition of the slave trade would be voted in only in 1807, twelve years after Wedgwood’s death, while that of slavery would be enacted in the United States only in 1865.

A touch of culture to your inbox
Subscribe to the Museum newsletter

Bourgie Hall Newsletter sign up

This website uses cookies in order to optimize your browsing experience and for promotional purposes. To learn more, please see our policy on the protection of personal Iinformation