Grayson Perry
The Rosetta Vase, 2011 AD
Glazed ceramic
78.5 (height) x 40.7 (diameter) cm
London, England


Created by the Turner-prize winning British contemporary artist Grayson Perry, as part of his The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman exhibition for the British Museum, this ceramic vase presents complex issues explored in Perry’s trademark cheeky way. Associating his vase with the museum’s ancient and much beloved Rosetta Stone, which famously contributed to the decoding of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the artist invites viewers to search for clues to the meaning of his mystifying object.
On one side, a tree of knowledge labelled “Story of the World,” refers to the successful 2010 BBC radio series “A History of the World in 100 Objects” narrated by Neil MacGregor, then Director of the British Museum. The buildings perched on it make reference to British Museum objects such as a medieval reliquary shrine. The ship labelled ‘sailing into the afterlife’ can be seen as a reference to the Anglo-Saxon ship burial from Sutton Hoo. Inscribed with phrases such as “hold your beliefs” and “colonialism,” the vase identifies the museum as a meeting place for cultures and ideas, while also contextualizing the collection’s existence within the history of colonialism. A provocative anatomical drawing on the other side based on a medieval medical manuscript from Persia acts as a psychological portrait of the cross-dressing artist. It is covered in phrases from the witty placement of “career enhancement” over his heart to his difficult “legacy of childhood,” which persistently occupies his thoughts.


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