THE BEAST VASE
By: Dineo Maloka, Junior Curator – DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History
The Beast Vase (or Queen’s Vase) is one of a replica vase that was gifted to South Africa in the late 19th century as one of the Commonwealth members. The vase forms part of the historical, archaeological, and anthropological research artifacts that are found in the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History (DNMCH). It is a significant piece in the Museum’s Ceramic Collection. This article seeks to share the history behind the Beast Vase and how it became part of the Museum’s Ceramic Collection and South African history.
Figure 1. Commonwealth vase gifted by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, which commemorates the Coronation in June 1953 (Source image: Ceramic Collection, DNMCH).
The vase is a permanent reminder of the patriotism and royal sentiment that surrounded the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The ten statues (see description below) formed the guard of honour at the entrance to Westminster Abbey when her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on the 2nd of June 1953.
The original vase was presented to the Queen at Buckingham Palace on 14 July 1954. The replicas were given to the then seven members of the Commonwealth. The artifacts were presented by the British Pottery Manufacturers Federation to bring honour to the coronation.
Design and description
The British Pottery Manufacturers Federation, in collaboration with Wedgewood, Doulton and other pottery firms took part in the design and creation of the artifact. They hired a designer by the name of John Wadsworth, a British ceramicist who worked at the Mintons ceramic company in Stoke-on-Trent, a city in Staffordshire, England.
Figure 2. The ten beasts represent Queen Elizabeth II’s genealogy (Image source: Christies .com).
Figure 3. Base of the vase (Image source: DNMCH).
The making of the vase was described by the federation as one of the most complicated pieces of bone China that was ever created. The original Beast Vase is ten sided and estimated to be over 60 centimetres tall. The artifact is an elaborate work of porcelain decorated in different colours and with gold as the dominating colour. It is surmounted by a cover with a crown finial top and a wooden bottom base. It has the small national floral emblems in richly colours of the commonwealth members at the top of the vase and the South African one being much bigger than the United Nations one, including the maple leaf of Canada. A key feature is the circle of ten heraldic beasts (replicas of the Queens beasts) around the base, each clutching the coat of arms of a royal family.
In conclusion, according to the Royal Collection website, The British Pottery Manufacturers Federation (subsequently the British Ceramic Manufacturers Federation) together with other pottery firms had an opportunity to create a gift for the Queen’s coronation and although several individuals and firms contributed to the design and manufacturing of the vase, they managed to create thirteen historical artifacts which were presented to her in 1953 and 1954. One of the replicas, gifted to South Africa as a Commonwealth member by the Queen, is housed at the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History, one of eight museums and historical sites of DITSONG: Museums of South Africa.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-29/queen-beasts-vase-at-parliament-house/8012996. https://www.parliament.nz/en/get-involved/features/display-of-royal-memorabilia/ There also appears to be a vase at the Lord Mayors’ Parlour, Stoke on Trent – see https://www.flickr.com/photos/tamla14/10309350873
Image sources: Dineo Maloka: DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History (DNMCH) photographs by Dineo Maloka Junior Curator.
Figure 1 (The Queens vase by Wentworth, Shield, W.F) Published by British Pottery Manufacturers.
Figure 2 (image source: DNMCH) Accession Number: HG 38686/1-3.
Figure 3 (Image source: Christies .com).