Now here is the really interesting part. There is a hole atop the figure's head. I always assumed this was intended to hold a metal halo. Not so. A metal crown would have fitted into it. The story behind the crown is particular to Portugal. In 1646, after his coronation Portugal’s new king, King John IV (Dom João IV) gave his crown to the madonna, saying she was the true queen of Portugal. Thereafter, Portugal’s sovereigns had acclamations instead of coronations, and they no longer wore crowns. BTW, Portugal’s monarchy ended in 1910.
But the story does not end there. The collector in Portugal went on to tell me that his figure has baby Jesus holding a small blue ball in his hands. This is a globe, signifying the universe. Well, there simply isn't a ball in the figure above. Possibly there is some damage, but probably there never was a ball. But here is
a close-up of the unpainted figure in the Potteries Museum....and baby Jesus, although now headless, does indeed clutch a globe.
You may recall a blog posting that included a very rare mermaid figure a year or two ago. Here she is again.
In 1822, there was still widespread belief in mermaids. After all, credible sources reported sightings, so why not believe? In that year, London was excited when a mermaid went on display. This grotesque shriveled creature was almost three feet long and it had been constructed from a monkey's upper body attached to a big fish tail. An American whaler captain, duped into believing he had found a rare and valuable treasure, had sold his ship for $6,000 to fund his purchase. When it went on show in London, naturalists quickly deduced that was "a composition; a most ingenious one, we grant, but still nothing beyond the admirably put together members of various animals.” Nonetheless, each day hundreds of people paid to see this disgusting object. I believe that Staffordshire mermaids date from this period. Perhaps the quick exposure of the hoax ended the manufacture of earthenware mermaids, because only three are known.
Again, thanks to the Internet, I learned that the mermaid of 1822 resurfaced in America in 1842. The great American showman P.T Barnum, then at the start of his career, acquired this famous fake and presented it cloaked in scientific knowledge as “The Feejee Mermaid.” The publicity stunt stirred much debate and controversy about the existence of the legendary mermaid.
The Internet has not yet revealed why the Staffordshire mermaid has wings. Do you know????
PS: The mermaid has a square face, but there is no basis for attributing her to John Dale!