Jasper fireplace with 'The Apotheosis of Homer', about 1786
Jasperware was inspired by the hardstone carvings called cameos, which have an upper layer of stone partly cut away to reveal a lower layer of a different colour. But jasper was not limited to the small scale of stone cameos. It could give the same jewel-like effect in interior decoration, in place of marble or plasterwork. The white jasper body could be dyed right through with solid colour. Wedgwood produced blue and green jasper as early as 1774, but it was several years before he could depend on firing large pieces successfully.
During the partnership years, tablets for chimneypieces or walls were the major items made in jasper. It was not generally used for vases until the 1780s. Between 1781 and 1786 Wedgwood made his most ambitious works in jasper, sets of tablets designed to go all the way round a mantelpiece.
Only four complete 18th century mantelpieces like this are known to survive, and three of them are in the Lady Lever collection. The green mantelpiece comes from the house of the Master of the Dublin Mint. The two blue ones, (the mantelpiece with the head of Ceres can be seen here) come from Longton Hall in Staffordshire. The architect of that house, named Gardner, had designed Etruria Hall for Wedgwood.