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Robert Butler, Curator of Art,

As was pointed out, during the 19th century the middle classes in America became both more numerous and much more affluent. In emulating upper class life styles and atmosphere they sought out cultural refinements. Assembly halls became “opera houses,” meeting rooms “lecture hall”. The walls of their homes were hung with Rembrandts, VanDykes and Rubens to name a few; albeit these art works were not originals. The etchings and lithographs however were well executed and ornately framed.

Another area of emulation was statuary. The middle class needed less expensive and smaller pieces. To fill this gap Parian wear was developed in both Europe and America. The name comes from the Greek island of Paros where a fine quality of marble was mined for countless centuries. The unmatched beauty of classic Greek statuary was carved on these stones.

Parian ware is a molded clay product that gives the appearance of marble from Paros.

The molding took many forms, busts of gods, famous historical figures and royalty, most notably Queen Victoria. Replications of Greek and Roman statues were very popular. Perhaps the most cherished were scenes of life depicted in sentimental manners.

The size ran from a few inches to several feet tall. The detail work was very good. The price was modest. The Victorian “sitting room”, more to be seen than lived in, was adorned with ornately carved furniture with several Parian pieces displayed proudly. An etching of a gladiator saluting Caesar after slaying his foe capped off the room that proudly proclaimed, “we have arrived”.

Parian ware turns up today in antique stores; however, because of its fragile nature most pieces have not survived into the 21st century. Those that have often have broken fingers and missing spears or a glued on head.