So what inspired this rather unusual pearlware figure group that is a far cry from the normal bucolic Staffordshire scence? Well, this one goes back to the classics...and forward to contemporary theater. The story of Roman Charity, as told by the ancient Roman historian Valierius Maximus in his Nine Books of Memorable Acts and Sayings, tells of Pero, who secretly breastfeeds her imprisoned father, Cimon. Cimon has been sentenced to death by starvation. The scene is depicted in art as early as the 1st century CE--actually it is in a fresco from that period at Pompey. Later, other famous artists mimicked the scene. Notably, Peter Paul Rubens painted Pero breastfeeding the chained Cimon.
Fast forward to the 18th century, when Arthur Murphy lifted the plot of Cimon and Pero to provide a stage role for the ailing actor, Mr. Barry. Dubbed The Grecian Daughter, the play was first performed at Drury Lane in February 1772, with Mr. and Mrs. Barry in the roles of Evander and Euphrasia, the Grecian and his daughter respectively. Although it was not a particularly popular play, the paucity of tragic fare kept it going on provincial stages and even on the London stage till about 1815. The play was "revived" in 1830 for Miss Fanny Kemble. I am guessing that this revival inspired John Howard's pearlware figure group!
- In my research, I found an early 19th century illustrated chapbook published by James Catnach some time before 1834. It tells the story of Cimon and Pera (or Evander and Euphrasia). The characters names are again changed (to make it easier reading for the mass market?) and the yarn is titled The Affectionate Daughter.
- The role of Euphrasia was one of the favorite roles of the great 18th/19th century actress, Sarah Siddons, and at least 8 different prints were published of her in that role.