Black Basalt is a form of pottery, which uses a mixture of clay and other materials that produced a black body when fired in the kiln. It's turned or press moulded in the same way as other forms of pottery.
Basalt goes back to the iron age, when certain clays were used that naturally fired black. In the 18th century this was improved on, with the best formula being produced by Josiah Wedgwood around 1767; the formula was soon copied and a number of companies produced basalt during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Wedgwood continued making it up until the late 20th century; Dudson made it until the mid 19th; Adams resumed making it around 1890-1920.
Basalt was popular for many reasons. It resembles ancient bronze, and so is suitable for busts; it resembles ancient Greek vases, and so with 'encaustic' painting Wedgwood produced his own versions of these; it showed off the whiteness of ladies' hands, and so was used for teawares. The best basalt is also a very fine and beautiful body in itself and is still much prized by collectors, particularly those whose taste tends towards the neoclassical. It takes sharp, detailed decoration well and is particularly suited to this style of shape and ornament.
It is found plain, with applied relief decoration, engine turned, gilded, painted and enamelled.
When there is relief decoration it is almost always black; black with white decoration is a different body, called jasperware. The two can't be mixed, as they shrink at different rates in the kiln. Basalt can be mixed with caneware or rosso to produce combinations of buff yellow or dark red with black, but these combinations are relatively rare.
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