Sublime Symmetry comes to Exeter

A sparkling exhibition of William De Morgan’s ceramics opens at RAMM this May.

Featuring 70 pots, tiles and vases from the De Morgan Collection, ‘Sublime Symmetry: The Mathematics behind De Morgan’s Designs’ (20 May 2023 – 10 September 2023) includes examples of De Morgan’s Middle Eastern-inspired designs and glistening lustreware which have seldom been on public display before.

The Victorian ceramic designer William De Morgan is celebrated today for his animal designs and ceramics influenced by Iznik and Islamic art. Sublime Symmetry looks beyond the glazed surface of De Morgan’s ceramics to the mathematical principles underpinning these colourful and elaborate designs.

De Morgan was raised in an exciting household near University College London, where his father worked as a professor of mathematics. His father was a huge influence on De Morgan, encouraging him to read Euclid as a child to learn the principles of geometry. De Morgan enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools in 1859 and mastered drawing from antique casts, learning how to master linear perspective.

His formative years and early artistic training gave De Morgan the skills to create beautiful designs once he turned his hand to making ceramics in the 1870s. Over his thirty years as a ceramic designer he was inspired by Islamic art which is based on geometry. De Morgan created designs based on symmetry, pattern and shape and these are revealed in ‘Sublime Symmetry’.

Highlights include his large Parrot Tile Panel which requires 16 individual tiles to make one repeat of the pattern, and his Ruby Lustre Jardinière which sparkles when it catches the light. The exhibition has been curated by Sarah Hardy, Director of the De Morgan Museum and made possible by the Trustees of the De Morgan Foundation.

RAMM is also hosting free educational visits to ‘Sublime Symmetry’ for schools, encouraging key stage 2 pupils to investigate the use of mathematical principles and geometry in De Morgan’s beautiful ceramic designs. The visits will be accompanied by a comprehensive workbook created by the Foundation.

Jean McMeakin, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the De Morgan Foundation said, ‘we are delighted to bring ‘Sublime Symmetry’ to RAMM and to new audiences in the South West who may not have seen De Morgan ceramics before. The exhibition will display objects from the collection which are rarely seen in public so this is a unique opportunity to see these artworks.’

RAMM curator Sally Ayres said, ‘We’re excited to be hosting ‘Sublime Symmetry’ this summer. De Morgan was one of the most intriguing and inventive ceramic designers of the late Victorian period, and this is an incredible opportunity to see his works up close, as well as providing a brilliant learning opportunity for local schoolchildren’.

Sublime Symmetry run from 20 May to 10 September 2023. Tickets from £3-£6. More information: 

More information on school visits:

Image: Floral Ogee Tile Panel by William De Morgan (c.1890) © Trustees of the De Morgan Foundation