About the Lecture

In his 1787 catalogue, the entrepreneurial Staffordshire potter Josiah Wedgwood I introduced a new sub-section under the category Class X. Heads of Illustrious Moderns from Chaucer to the Present Time, entitled ‘Ladies’, listing 23 female heads. The following year in the French translation, it was renamed ‘Femmes Célèbres’ and an additional five women appeared in the Supplement. Among these were celebrated actresses, poets and aristocrats assembled by Wedgwood to form a cabinet of female worthies or Illustrious Ladies. While these portrait medallions appealed to the Neoclassical passion for small-scale portraiture, they also recognised a growing interest in the education of women and offered a selection of admired role models. This talk re-assesses Wedgwood’s portrait medallions through the narrow lens of female exclusion, identifying this handful of illustrious British women and exploring the criteria for their selection.


Patricia F. Ferguson was Project Curator at the British Museum from 2017−20, focusing on European ceramics, including Wedgwood portrait medallions, and print sources. She was the editor of the recent British Museum Research Publication Pots, Prints and Politics: Ceramics with an Agenda, from the 14th to the 20th Century (2021). Between 2006 and 2017, she was a consulting curator in the Asian and Ceramics Departments of the Victoria and Albert Museum. As Honorary Adviser on Ceramics to the National Trust, she published Ceramics: 400 Years of British Collecting in 100 Masterpieces (2016) and Garnitures: Vase Sets from National Trust Houses (2016).