Ceramics provide a fascinating crossover between objects of art and items for practical use. The ceramics on display in this gallery cover 500 years of production ranging from the distinctive 17th-century Staffordshire slipware by Thomas Toft to the Japanese-inspired stoneware of 20th-century ceramicist Bernard Leach.
However it is European porcelain which dominates this gallery, not least because of the Marshall Collection, displayed in the central cases, one of the most comprehensive collections of early coloured Worcester porcelain anywhere in the world. It was presented to the Ashmolean by Mr and Mrs Henry Marshall in memory of their son who was killed in action in the Second World War, on the condition that the collection (which numbers more than a thousand pieces) always be displayed in its entirety.
Chinese porcelain had been highly admired in Europe since the Middle Ages but it was not until 1709 that the German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger cracked the code for producing porcelain. Factories opened all over Europe in order to satisfy the public demand for this fine china. At the same time European eating and drinking habits were changing with the introduction of coffee and tea which brought a whole new aspect to the design of china.
At the front of the gallery is a display illustrating how the Worcester porcelain of the Marshall collection would have been used in a typical gentleman’s house about 1760–70. A table is laid for dessert, when a fresh porcelain service was used and dishes with sweetmeats, fresh and crystallised fruit were set out along with glasses of syllabub and jellies. Decorative porcelain figurines were placed on the table and sweet wine would be drunk from small long-stemmed glasses.