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The Prodigal Son (Gay Life): C.1184C-1928

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Object information

Current Location: In storage


The Prodigal Son (Gay Life)


Factory: Unidentified Pottery
Decorator: unidentified enameller




Lead-glazed creamware painted in enamels with scene from the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Pale cream-coloured earthenware covered in a clear lead-glaze and painted overglaze with coloured enamels. The plate has a six-lobed wavy rim with a double moulded line around the edge. Each lobe is painted with red, yellow and blue bands around the edge and yellow scrolls, green leaves and a red cross in the centre. On the right in the scene in the middle of the plate is the Prodigal Son leaning over a table to embrace a woman with bare breasts, who strokes his chin with one hand and holds a wine glass in the other. At the other end of the table sits another bare-breasted woman and a woman in a red dress with a wine glass. On the table is a large ham and in front of it is a bottle labelled ‘SHERRY’. In the background are arches and columns covered in wavy red lines to create a marble effect. Beneath the scene is the title: ‘GAΫ LIFE’. Marked on base with impressed lozenge.


History note: Provenance unidentified before Mr Stoner, London, who sold as part of set of six plates (C.1184-1928 – C.1184E-1928) for £26 on 13 January 1919 to Dr J.W.L. Glaisher, FRS, Trinity College, Cambridge

Legal notes

Dr J.W.L. Glaisher Bequest

Measurements and weight

Diameter: 25.1 cm
Height: 2.7 cm

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1928-12-07) by Glaisher, J. W. L., Dr


Although the plate itself is of English manufacture, the overglaze painted decoration is thought to be Dutch. The Prodigal Son scenes on the plates are a common motif on Dutch decorated English creamware, often appearing with Dutch captions rather than the English ones. Some of scenes from this set of plates appear with different English captions on three stylistically comparable plates in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (1971.180.199-201).

The lozenge mark on the plate is listed in Godden’s ‘Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks’ as being a workman’s mark used at the Swansea pottery c.1800-10 but Donald Towner suggests it also appears on 18th-century creamware, sometimes in conjunction with Wedgwood marks.

This plate belongs to a set of six (C.1184-1928 - C.1184E-1928) which illustrates the parable of the Prodigal Son. The scenes on the plates are derived from Richard Purcell’s prints, published in London in that early 1750s, after a series of paintings of the Prodigal Son by the French artist Sebastien le Clerc. This scene on this plate is from the middle of the parable: it shows the Prodigal Son squandering his wealth on worldly pleasures.

People, subjects and objects depicted

Materials used in production

clear Lead-glaze
cream-coloured Earthenware

Techniques used in production

Press-moulding : Press-moulded cream-coloured earthenware covered in a clear lead-glaze and painted overglaze in coloured enamels
Painting overglaze

Inscription or legends present

  • Text: GAΫ LIFE
  • Location: Below image in centre of plate
  • Method of creation: Painted overglaze in black enamel
  • Type: Inscription
  • Text: SHERRY
  • Location: On bottle in foreground
  • Method of creation: Painted overglaze in black enamel
  • Type: Inscription

Inscription present: lozenge

  • Location: On base
  • Method of creation: Impressed
  • Type: Mark

Inscription present: circular, stick-on paper label with border printed in black with ‘J. W. L. GLAISHER COLLECTION’

  • Text: 4610(2)
  • Location: On base
  • Method of creation: Handwritten in black ink
  • Type: Label

Inscription present: rectangle of white paper

  • Text: Plate from a set of Prodigal Son plates. English, c.1770-80, painted at Delft or elsewhere in the Netherlands. Creamware painted in enamels. Mark: a lozenge impressed. Dr. J.W.L. Glaisher Bequest. C1184C-1928
  • Location: Loose
  • Method of creation: Printed in black
  • Type: Label

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.1184C-1928
Primary reference Number: 71474
Old catalogue number: 4610(2)
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Wednesday 15 July 2020 Last processed: Monday 23 October 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

This record can be cited in the Harvard Bibliographic style using the text below:

The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "The Prodigal Son (Gay Life)" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-06-15 08:52:59

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