Earthenware flatback depicting John signing Magna Carta


Flatbacks were mantelpiece decorations, produced in vast numbers in Staffordshire from the 1830s until the beginning of the 20th century. This example from the mid-19th century shows King John sitting in a tent and — entirely unhistorically — signing a copy of Magna Carta. The attendant on John’s left holds a pot full of quill pens; two banners flank the tent and the flatback is decorated somewhat garishly in pink, green, orange and blue. The maker of the flatback is unknown, but it has been suggested that its manufacture was inspired by the famous production of Shakespeare’s King John at the Princess’s Theatre, London, in 1852, featuring Charles Kean (1811-68) in the title role. Such objects would have been important for bringing representations of Magna Carta into domestic settings and reinforcing its place in the public consciousness.

Full title:
Earthenware flatback (for mantelpiece decoration) depicting John signing Magna Carta
estimated 1850, Staffordshire
© Victoria and Albert Museum
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Victoria and Albert Museum

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