the art of commissioning

house spider with christmas hat

Ziggy the Christmas spider

painting of Pope Julius II by Raphael

Julius II by Raphael

photo of Rex Harrison

Rex Harrison

detail from Sistine Chapel

God & Adam







A commission in art was at one time only the privilege of the rich and powerful. Rulers and governments commissioned artists to design pieces that often glorified the kingdom or state. During the Renaissance, the Church became a regular patron of the arts commissioning such great works as The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, and of course, the most celebrated art commission of all time, the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo, commissioned by Pope Julius II, a man who centuries later, as older belatrovians will remember, would be played by Rex Harrison in “The Agony and the Ecstasy“.

ceiling of Sistine Chapel

top commission

Commissions are all very well when it comes to painting and sculpture, we hear you say; what about ceramic commissions? Well, how about the ‘Frog Service’, a 50-person set intended for dinner and dessert made by Wedgewood in 1773 for Catherine the Great who bought it for her Gothic summer palace built in a frog marsh some miles outside St Petersburg, “Kekerekeksinky“*, would you believe – hence the inclusion of the frog motif.

The service was painted with 1222 views of British landscapes,antiquities and gardens. It cost £2,290 and was intended for occasional use, not for display alone. When the service was nearing completion, the bulk of it was put on display at Portland House in London, so as to show it to the English public before it was dispatched to Russia. At the present time the Hermitage collection includes some 770 items from this famous commission.

ceramic Wedgewood

part of the Frog Commission

As an aside, belatrova went to visit the Wedgewood Museum and returned as enthralled as ever by Josiah, a man of energy and creativity who along with others transformed society and kick-started the Industrial Revolution. He was born into a family of potters in 1730, at Burslem, Staffordshire, and his father’s death in 1739 led him to an early start working as a ‘thrower’ in the pottery of his eldest brother, Thomas, to whom he was later apprenticed. An attack of smallpox seriously weakened him and in 1768 he had to have his right leg amputated. This meant he was forced to abandon throwing, but he gained a wider insight into the potter’s craft, which led to experimentation. If you would like further insight into this world, belatrova warmly recommends a book by Jenny Uglow, “The Lunar Men”.

portrait of Josia Wedgewood by Reynolds

mezzotint of Josiah based on Reynolds painting. copyright National Gallery

Why are we telling you all this? Oh, yes… The Wedgewood Museum Trust. It became liable for the £134m pensions debt of its insolvent parent company and after a long battle to prevent the break up and sale of the collection, the Art Fund was given the chance to save the collection for £15.75 million. £2.74 million is still required by November to save the collection from being dispersed: 250 years of history, 80,000 objects – a unique visual archive.

belatrova lamps being made

belatrova commissions


Back to commissions. We would like to say that nowadays commissions are much more commonplace and accessible, and that vast fortunes need no longer be spent. Nobody need be a Medici to commission a belatrova birdbath, or table lamp, or platter. In fact, we have been busy fulfilling commissions as a result of so many visits during h.Art (Herefordshire Art week), so we thought we would remind you that with three months to go before Christmas belatrova is the place for that unique gift.

Just give us a ring at the workshop on +44 (0) 1531 634082 or send us an email ( or visit our website: http// – we are happy to talk to you about any idea you may have.

So long as it does not involve spiders.

There is one arachnophobe amongst us who finds it hard to deal with the creatures as they start to come indoors with the nights getting cooler –“all I want is a room somewhere / Far away from the cold night air…” they sing. It is impossible to determine in which direction they will scuttle and so they strike fear in the heart of this particular person, who will remain nameless.

Meanwhile, with a little bit of bloomin’ luck, we hope to see you when we open up the workshop over the weekends of November 29th and of December 6th.

* Kekerekeksinky was mistakenly thought to mean “frog” in Finnish, though if you try to pronounce it in a deep voice you will sound a little like one. 

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