The Portland Vase

The Portland Vase

The Portland Vase is a Roman two-handled glass amphora dating to between the second half of the 1st century BCE and the early 1st century CE. The vase has a cameo-like effect decoration which perhaps depicts the marriage of Peleus and Thetis from Greek Mythology. After a long history of changes in ownership, disaster struck in 1845 CE when the vase was smashed to pieces in the British Museum. Fortunately, it has since been painstakingly restored so that it can once more take its rightful place amongst the very finest masterpieces of Roman art.

Properties

The vase is 24.5 cm in height and 17.7 cm in its maximum width. The vase was made by blowing the dark cobalt blue coloured glass covered with a layer of opaque white cased glass. Large areas of the white glass were then removed to reveal the under-layer of blue. Areas of white were left and carved in relief to depict scenes. The style of the decoration has led scholars to date the piece to the reign of Augustus (27 BCE - 14 CE). The fineness of detail of the decorative scenes is comparable to the highest quality Roman cut-gems and so it must be the work of a superbly talented gem-cutter or diatretarius.

The two-handled amphora vase is incomplete as it has lost its pointed base and the mouth of the vessel is curiously uneven in cut. The base was repaired using a similar coloured disk carved in the same style and depicting Paris. Although it is remarkable that such a delicate object has survived at all from antiquity, the vase is not unique, as a similar type vase has been found at Pompeii which dates to the mid-1st century CE and depicts scenes from a grape harvest. However, these cameo-cut vessels are regarded as something of an experiment in Roman glassware, carried out in a limited period spanning just two generations, so they were almost certainly not commonly produced.

Decorative Scenes

The scenes on the vase are divided into two parts by a bearded head (perhaps with horns), one under each handle. The first scene has four figures which include a young man leaving a shrine in the countryside and wearing a cloak. The man holds the arm of a semi-naked woman sitting on the ground preoccupied with stroking an animal resembling a snake. Above the woman is the flying figure of Eros with his customary bow and a torch in his right hand. On the right is a bearded male standing between two trees and depicted in a contemplative mood with his chin resting on his hand.

The second scene on the other side of the vase shows three figures all sitting on rocks with a background of a single tree. On the left is a young male next to a column or pillar, whilst in the centre is a young woman with her arm raised to her head and holding a torch which hangs down to the ground. On the far right is another half-dressed woman who holds a sceptre or staff in her left hand.

The exact significance of the scenes is not known for certain, but a commonly held speculation is that it is the wedding of Thetis and Peleus from Greek mythology that is being shown. Other interpretations include the dreams of Olympias, Alexander the Great's mother. This would make the reclining female figures in both scenes Olympias, the snake Alexander's father Zeus, and the young male leaving the temple as Alexander. Another interpretation is the similar story of Julia Mammaea and Roman emperor Alexander Severus. Finally, some have suggested the scene with Eros shows Mark Antony and Cleopatra, whilst the reverse scene has Augustus consoling Octavia with the goddess Venus looking on.

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Later History

The vase was discovered in a funerary monument in Rome in the 16th century CE and was initially believed to have come from a marble sarcophagus containing the remains of Alexander Severus - a claim now considered erroneous. The vase has almost certainly been polished since its original discovery and the scenes perhaps even reworked. After changing owners several times - amongst them the Barberini family whose name became attached to the vase - it was acquired by the Duchess of Portland in 1784 CE, a noted collector of antiquities. The vase has always been famous, but it became even more so from 1786 CE when Josiah Wedgwood made several copies of it in black and then lighter blue jasper-ware. In 1810 CE the 4th Duke of Portland loaned the vase to the British Museum in London for permanent exhibition.

Seemingly now safe for all time, the Portland Vase was, however, to suffer one final twist of fate when in 1845 CE a drunken paranoia-suffering visitor to the museum inexplicably took a sculpted stone exhibit and threw it at the glass cabinet containing the vase. The vessel was smashed into well over 80 pieces. An immediate restoration was undertaken by John Doubleday and the incident served only to increase the vase's already considerable mystique and fame. The British Museum bought the vase outright in 1945 CE and it has since been dismantled and restored a further two times, the last in 1989 CE.


This Day in Pottery History

The Hit Parade #9: The Portland Vase

I don’t particularly like this vase. I find the style tight and constricted.  But it belongs on any ceramic greatest hits list.

Volumes have been written about Josiah Wedgwood’s Portland Vase, c. 1790.  Essentially, it’s 9½” tall with white sprigging on a black “basalt” body (one of Wedgwood’s many nomenclature shenanigans).  It’s a replica, in ceramic, of a Roman cameo glass vase made around 1AD.  Many have hailed it as a defining Masterpiece for both Wedgwood and  England’s Industrial Revolution.

Josiah Wedgwood made his name with the Portland Vase.  But he made his fortunes with his ensuing “Queen’s Ware” line.  That was only possible because of the technical know-how he amassed previous to making the Vase. 

Wedgwood made the Portland Vase knowing nothing about ceramic chemistry beyond personal observations. (Geology wasn’t even a recognized science for another 20 years.)  And some of his materials came from across an ocean, and in areas owned by people at war with Europeans.  And there were practically no maps or roads in those regions.   And the Vase’s imagery (as on the original cameo glass) was one long continuous sprig.  And that one long continuous sprig didn’t smudged upon application (look at it close up).  And the sprig didn’t deform or crack.  And it stayed on during drying and firing.  And the entire process was made to be repeated.  And these processes coalesced a nascent ceramics supply business into being (where would we be without that?).  And his efforts helped coin an entirely new meaning for the word “industry.”

Many potters see Wedgwood’s industrializing efforts, with their logical conclusion being today’s cheap imported stuff available at any WalMart or shopping mall, as the bane of hand made pottery. 

Perhaps.  But there’s a flip side.  Almost overnight, a wide swath of the working class could now afford refined ceramics.  It was purely a marketing ploy, for sure.  But before this moment, anything terribly fancy was out of reach for most people.  Now the masses could aspire to have fine art in their own homes.

Very few objects carry the wallop that this vase does.

If you doubt that last statement, try doing something like the Portland Vase yourself some time – preferably before you make your own list of ceramic greatest hits…

Staffordshire Pottery and Its History.  Josiah Wedgwood.  McBride Nast & Co./New York & London.  1913.

The Map That Changed The World.  Simon Winchester.  Harper Perennial/London.  2009.


A restoration 144 years in the making – how the Portland Vase was restored to its Roman glory

We have all been there. You go on a week-long drinking session, you find yourself in the British Museum and you end up drunkenly throwing a sculpture at the Portland Vase, smashing a priceless Roman artefact into pieces whose full restoration then ends up taking over 144 years.

The Portland Vase enjoyed a long and varied life before William Lloyd intervened after one too many ales on 7 th February 1845. It has been dated to between AD 1 and AD 25 and is probably the most famous glass object in the world which has served as an inspiration to countless glass and porcelain makers over the centuries.

It is thought that the Portland Vase was discovered within a large marble sarcophagus belonging to the third century Roman Emperor Alexander Severus in a funerary monument a few miles southeast of Rome. The first recorded mention of the Vase was made in 1600 by the French antiquary Nicolas-Claude Fabri who saw it as part of a collection belonging to Cardinal del Monte.

Following Cardinal del Monte’s death in 1626, the Vase passed to the Barberini Family with whom it remained for 150 years. Maffeo Barberini – or Pope Urban VIII as he was better known – was particularly fond of the Vase. Being owned by the most powerful family in Rome meant that the Vase would grow to become one of Rome’s most famous artefacts over the next two centuries.

The Vase found its way to Britain in the 1770s when Donna Cordelia Barberini-Colonna suffered a bad run of luck gambling and was forced to sell off the Barberini Family heirlooms to pay her debts. A Scottish dealer called James Byres acquired it, selling it onto the British Ambassador to Naples, Sir William Hamilton. In 1784, Sir William sold it to the Duchess of Portland, but she had little time to enjoy her purchase as she passed away within 18 months.

The Portland Vase was put up her auction, but it stayed in the family, the Duchess’ son the Third Duke of Portland purchasing it. Shortly afterwards, the Duke lent the Vase to Josiah Wedgewood who spent four years trying to recreate the artefact in black and white jasperware pottery. Wedgewood eventually succeeded and it was his homages to the Portland Vase that led to a surge in interest in the artefact in Britain.

The Portland Vase was lent to the British Museum for display after Wedgewood completed his copies and when a friend of the Fourth Duke of Portland, by now the owner of the Vase, broke the base in 1810, it was transferred permanently to the Museum for safe keeping. Perhaps the Fourth Duke would have taken a different decision if he knew what was to happen 35 years later.

It was at 3.45pm on 7 th February when Lloyd entered the Museum having been reportedly drinking for over a week – or in his words, “indulging in intemperance for a week before.” He picked up a large piece of basalt, part of a monument from the ruins of Persepolis and threw it at the glass case in which the Portland Vase was stored. The sculpture smashed the glass and the Vase itself. In seconds, ‘Lloyd’ turned an artefact which had survived 1800 years into 189 pieces.

He was fined £3, equivalent to £367 in today’s money. Lloyd was unable to pay the fine and so spent two months in prison instead until an anonymous benefactor paid the fine to secure his release. It was later revealed that William Lloyd had been a fake name the destroyer of the Vase was in fact a Trinity College student called William Mulcahy, who had been reported as missing in Ireland.

When Mulcahy’s true identity was revealed along with his troubled background and impoverished family, the Fourth Duke declined to instigate civil action against for the damage caused to the Vase, saying that he did not want to bring further problems to Mulcahy or his family. The Duke instead described the destruction of the Vase “an act of folly or madness which they could not control.”

Attention then turned to the restoration of the Portland Vase. The British Museum’s restorer John Doubleday was the first to make an attempt and his was relatively successful. Doubleday was however unable to replace 37 very small fragments. These pieces were sent by another of the Museum’s restorers to a box maker called Mr G.H. Gabb, who was asked to create a box with 37 different compartments, one for each fragment of the Vase.

British Museum Restorer John Doubleday with the Portland Vase

Before the box was completed, both Doubleday and his fellow restorer at the British Museum who commissioned the box passed away. Nobody came to collect the box and pieces and so they remained forgotten until 1948, when Mr Gabb himself died. The executor of his will, Miss Amy Reeves, brought in Mr. G.A. Croker to value Mr Gabb’s effects and it was Croker who found the box and sent it to the British Museum for identification.

The discovery of the missing pieces came at a good time. By 1948, the original restoration of the Portland Vase was beginning to look aged and so the decision was taken to dismantle the Vase and rebuild it again. Conservator J.W.R Axtell was responsible for the restoration job this time although he too struggled with the smaller pieces, managing to place only three of the 37 pieces into the rebuilt Vase which was completed in February 1949.

By the late 1980s, Axtell’s restoration was yellowing. The Vase had become so fragile that while other exhibits left the British Museum for the touring Glass of the Caesars exhibition, the Portland Vase had to stay behind. It was decided to undertake another restoration in the hope that adhesive technology had advanced enough in the 40 years since the last attempt to allow for a longer lasting repair.

The key to that was finding the correct epoxy for the task. Before Nigel Williams and Sandra Smith carried out the third restoration of the Portland Vase, they tested a huge number of epoxy resins, eventually settling on Hxtal NYL-1 Clear Epoxy. Hxtal NYL-1 has exceptional non-yellowing qualities, even after significant periods of direct light exposure.

Discoloration had proven to be the major problem with the previous restoration attempts of the Portland Vase, but with Hxtal NYL-1 Epoxy that would not be an issue. The long-term transparent qualities of Hxtal NYL-1 Epoxy Resin combined with the super-strength bonding it provides mean that the Portland Vase isn’t expected to require any conservation or restoration work for at least another century.

The restoration of the Portland Vase became a major event. Press interest was huge and the BBC History and Archaeology Unit were on hand to film Williams and Smith as they embarked on the process.

They began by extensively photographing and drawing the Vase, recording the position of every fragment before wrapping it inside and out with blotting paper. It then sat in a glass desiccator which was injected with solvents for three days, breaking down the adhesive bonds of previous repairs and returning the Vase into the pieces that Mulcahy had shattered it into over 100 years earlier.

Each piece was individually cleaned by Williams and Smith, removing all traces of the previous adhesives used to in past restorations of the Portland Vase. It was then the job of Hxtal NYL-1 to join the pieces together. The curing process was aided by ultaviolent light, which can be used to offer greater control in glass repair. There are now even specially formulated glass adhesives which only bond when exposed to UV light.

There were some concerning moments during the restoration. Williams and Smith had decided to try and avoid reconstructing the Vase using any trap-outs, where the placing of one fragment prevents the next from fitting. This proved to be nigh-on impossible and with the Vase nearing completion at Christmas 1988, they broke up for the holidays fearing that they might have to deconstruct part of the Vase to fit the final few shards in, dismantling six months’ worth of work in the process.

Williams spent most of Christmas worrying about the situation, but when he and Smith returned to work in the New Year they were able to complete the top of the Vase perfectly. They even managed what their restoration predecessors had not and reintegrated the majority of the 37 lost pieces. Any gaps were filled with blue or white resins.

The restoration of the Portland Vase took nine months and at the end of the project, Williams gave his verdict: “”It’s OK… but it ruined my Christmas.” A worthwhile sacrifice to preserve a beautiful artefact with a fascinating history for another 100 years.


Portland vase

Portland vase a dark blue Roman glass vase with white decoration, dating from around the 1st century ad . Acquired in the 18th century by the Duchess of Portland, it is now in the British Museum smashed in 1845, it was skilfully and carefully restored.

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The Portland Vase: Classical Connoisseurship, Influence, Destruction & Conservation

A Roman cameo glass vase, the Portland Vase, created between 30 BCE and 25 CE, and known since the Renaissance, served as an inspiration to many glass and porcelain makers from about the beginning of the 18th century onwards. It is about 25 centimeters high and 56 in circumference, made of violet-blue glass, and surrounded with a single continuous white glass cameo depicting seven figures of humans and gods. "On the bottom was a cameo glass disc, also in blue and white, showing a head, presumed to be of Paris or Priam on the basis of the Phrygian cap it wears. This roundel clearly does not belong to the vase, and has been displayed separately since 1845. It may have been added to mend a break in antiquity or after, or the result of a conversion from an original amphora form (paralleled by a similar blue-glass cameo vessel from Pompeii) - it was definitely attached to the bottom from at least 1826."

"The meaning of the images on the vase is unclear and controversial. Interpretations of the portrayals have included that of a marine setting (due to the presence of a ketos or sea-snake), and of a marriage theme/context (i.e. as a wedding gift). Many scholars (even Charles Towneley) have concluded that the figures do not fit into a single iconographic set."

"Cameo-glass vessels were probably all made within about two generations as experiments when the blowing technique (discovered in about 50 BC) was still in its infancy. Recent research has shown that the Portland vase, like the majority of cameo-glass vessels, was made by the dip-overlay method, whereby an elongated bubble of glass was partially dipped into a crucible (fire-resistant container) of white glass, before the two were blown together. After cooling the white layer was cut away to form the design."

"The work towards making a 19th century copy proved to be incredibly painstaking, and based on this it is believed that the Portland Vase must have taken its original artisan no less than two years to produce. The cutting was probably performed by a skilled gem-cutter. It is believed that the cutter may have been Dioskourides, as gems cut by him of a similar period and signed by him."

Traditionally the vase was believed to have been discovered by Fabrizio Lazzaro in the sepulchre of the Emperor Alexander Severus, at Monte del Grano near Rome, and excavated some time around 1582.

The first documented reference to the vase is a 1601 letter from the French scholar Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc to the painter Peter Paul Rubens, where it is recorded as in the collection of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte in Italy. It then passed to the Barberini family collection (which also included sculptures such as the Barberini Faun and Barberini Apollo) where it remained for some two hundred years, being one of the treasures of Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII.

In 1778 Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador in Naples, purchased it from James Byres. "Byres, a Scottish art dealer, had acquired it after it was sold by Donna Cornelia Barberini-Colonna, Princess of Palestrina. She had inherited the vase from the Barberini family. Hamilton brought it to England on his next leave, after the death of his first wife, Catherine. In 1784, with the assistance of his niece, Mary, he arranged a private sale to Margaret Cavendish-Harley, widow of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland and so dowager Duchess of Portland. She passed it to her son William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland in 1786.

"The 3rd Duke loaned the original vase to Josiah Wedgwood (see below) and then to the British Museum for safe-keeping, at which point it was dubbed the "Portland Vase". It was deposited there permanently by the fourth Duke in 1810, after a friend of his broke its base. The original Roman vase has remained in the British Museum ever since 1810, apart from three years (1929-32) when William Cavendish-Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland put it up for sale at Christie's. It failed to reach its reserve. It was purchased by the Museum from William Cavendish-Bentinck, 7th Duke of Portland in 1945 with the aid of a bequest from James Rose Vallentin. . . .

"The 3rd Duke lent the vase to Josiah Wedgwood, who had already had it described to him as 'the finest production of Art that has been brought to England and seems to be the very apex of perfection to which you are endeavouring' by the sculptor John Flaxman. Wedgwood devoted four years of painstaking trials at duplicating the vase - not in glass but in jasperware. He had problems with his copies ranging from cracking and blistering (clearly visible on the example at the Victoria and Albert Museum) to the reliefs 'lifting' during the firing, and in 1786 he feared that he could never apply the Jasper relief thinly enough to match the glass original's subtlety and delicacy. He finally managed to perfect it in 1790, with the issue of the "first-edition" of copies (with some of this edition, including the V&A one, copying the cameo's delicacy by a combination of undercutting and shading the reliefs in grey), and it marks his last major achievement.

"Wedgwood put the first edition on private show between April and May 1790, with that exhibition proving so popular that visitor numbers had to be restricted by only printing 1900 tickets, before going on show in his public London showrooms. (One ticket to the private exhibition, illustrated by Samuel Alkin and printed with 'Admission to see Mr Wedgwood's copy of The Portland Vase, Greek Street, Soho, between 12 o'clock and 5', was bound into the Wedgwood catalogue on view in the Victoria and Albert Museum's British Galleries.) As well as the V&A copy (said to have come from the collection of Wedgwood's grandson, the naturalist Charles Darwin), others are held at the Fitzwilliam Museum (this is the copy sent by Wedgwood to Erasmus Darwin which his descendants loaned to the Museum in 1963 and later sold to them) and the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum.

"The Vase also inspired a 19th century competition to duplicate its cameo-work in glass, with Benjamin Richardson offering a £1000 prize to anyone who could achieve that feat. Taking three years, glass maker Philip Pargeter made a copy and John Northwood engraved it, to win the prize. This copy is in the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

Vandalism and Reconstruction

"On February 7, 1845, the vase was shattered by William Lloyd, who drunkenly threw a nearby sculpture on top of the case smashing both it and the vase. The vase was pieced together with fair success, though the restorer was unable to replace all of the pieces and thirty-seven small fragments were lost. It appears they had been put into a box and forgotten. In 1948, the keeper Bernard Ashmole received thirty-seven fragments in a box from Mr. Croker of Putney, who did not know what they were. In 1845 Mr. Doubleday, the first restorer, did not know where these fragments went. A colleague had taken these to Mr. Gabb, a box maker, who was asked to make a box with thirty seven compartments, one for each fragment. The colleague died, the box was never collected, Gabb died and his executrix Miss Revees asked Croker to ask the museum if they could identify them. The Duke's descendants finally sold the vase to the museum in 1945.

"By 1948, the restoration appeared aged and it was decided to restore the vase again, but the restorer was only successful in replacing three fragments. The adhesive from this weakened, by 1986 the joints rattled when the vase was gently tapped. The third and current reconstruction took place in 1987, when a new generation of conservators assessed the vase's condition during its appearance as the focal piece of an international exhibition of Roman glass and, at the conclusion of the exhibition, it was decided to go ahead with reconstruction and stabilisation. The treatment had scholarly attention and press coverage. The vase was photographed and drawn to record the position of fragments before dismantling the BBC filmed the conservation process. All previous adhesives had failed, so to find one that would last, conservation scientists at the museum tested many adhesives for long term stability. Finally, an epoxy resin with excellent ageing properties was chosen. Reassembly of the vase was made more difficult as the edges of some fragments were found to have been filed down during the restorations. Nevertheless, all of the fragments were replaced except for a few small splinters. Areas that were still missing were gap-filled with a blue or white resin.

"The newly conserved Portland Vase was returned to display. Little sign of the original damage is visible and except for light cleaning, the vase should not require major conservation work for many years." (Wikipedia article on Portland Vase, accessed 11-10-2009)


The Portland Vase

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The Portland Vase is thought to have been crafted during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD). A work of outstanding technical skill, it is decorated with scenes of love and marriage, the precise meaning of which has been the cause of much debate and interpretation.

This book offers an exciting new reading of the vase, setting it in the context of the dramatic relationships between Octavia, Anthony and Cleopatra. It also explores the lively history of the vase, from the earliest records in Italy to its purchase by Sir William Hamilton and the Dukes of Portland, and its abiding influence on British craftsmen such as Josiah Wedgwood.

  • Product Code: CMC50222
  • Author: Susan Walker
  • Pages: 64
  • Dimensions: H21 x L14.7cm
  • Brand: British Museum
  • Illustrations: 15 colour and 5 b/w
  • Postage Weight: 0.16 Kg

The Portland Vase is thought to have been crafted during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD). A work of outstanding technical skill, it is decorated with scenes of love and marriage, the precise meaning of which has been the cause of much debate and interpretation.

This book offers an exciting new reading of the vase, setting it in the context of the dramatic relationships between Octavia, Anthony and Cleopatra. It also explores the lively history of the vase, from the earliest records in Italy to its purchase by Sir William Hamilton and the Dukes of Portland, and its abiding influence on British craftsmen such as Josiah Wedgwood.


The Portland Vase - History

A project was recently launched to create a 21st Century replica of the famous Portland Vase. The project was the result of a conversation between Ian Dury and myself after I relocated my business to Ruskin Glass Centre on Wollaston Road in Stourbridge. The original Portland Vase was made of cameo glass and dated from about 30-20 BC.

The &lsquoStourbridge Twenty Twelve Portland Vase&rsquo saw us undertake a replica of one of the most important pieces of glass in history The Portland Vase. What made the project even more significant as it was in celebration of 400 years of glassmaking in Stourbridge. The project even gained the support of Dr Paul Roberts from the British Museum.

The last person to create a replica in Stourbridge was John Northwood back in 1874. In 1873 Northwood was approached by Phillip Pargeter, owner of the Red House Glass Works in Wordsley, about the possibility of making a reproduction of the famous Roman Portland Vase. Pargeter was responsible for producing the blank with Northwood then tasked with carving the intricate design.

All the workhas been carried out on site at Ruskin Glass Centre for visitors to witness. The glass used was sourced from Plowden & Thompson, the Cameo blank was then blown by the expert glass maker Richard Golding then finally I had the pleasure and privilege to engrave the piece.


The Portland Vase - History

The original Portland Vase is a Roman work of the 1st century AD of dark blue glass decorated with white figures, and is agreed to be the finest surviving Roman example of cameo glass. It was said to have been discovered in a sarcophagus outside Rome in the early 1580's, but there seems to be no contemporary documentation of its unearthing at this time. By the early seventeenth century it was owned by Cardinal Francesco Maria Borbone del Monte, who died in August 1626 and whose heir, Alessandro, sold it to Cardinal Antonio Barberini. The vase remained in the possession of the Barberini family, distinguished collectors of art in Rome who exhibited majestic paintings and sculptures in their palace, for 150 years. It is sometimes called the Barberini Vase. The vase was next acquired by a Scottish architect living in Italy, James Byres, who in the early 1780's sold it to Sir William Hamilton and Englishman with a rather interesting background. Around 1784 Sir William Hamilton was in England, and Margaret, the duchess of Portland, saw the vase he had brought with him from Naples. She was enthralled with it and sought it for her collection. Margaret was not able to enjoy her new vase for long, since she died on July 17, 1785, about a year after acquiring it. Margaret's son, the duke of Portland, purchased the ancient Roman vase and in 1810, after a family friend broke off the vase's base, lent it to the British Museum, where it presumably would be safe and could be enjoyed by a wide audience. In 1845, while in the British Museum (where it is now), the vase was smashed by a drunken museum goer, necessitating skillful and painstaking restoration.

In 1790, Josiah Wedgwood produced a limited edition of 'Portland Vases' done in a black jasperware he called 'basalt ware.'' The edition of porcelain vases is based directly on the original Portland vase in shape and surface design. The first edition of 30 vases was a huge success and Wedgwood would go on to reissue the design many times. Jasperware was so successful that it was even copied later by both Meissen and Sèvres. Wedgwood's neoclassic jasperware vases have proven remarkably impervious to changing tastes and may still be purchased today as the factory is still in operation.

Josiah Wedgwood was a man of many interests and was known to be an ardent supporter of liberal causes. He was a leader in the abolition of slavery movement as well as a supporter of both the American war of independence and the French revolution. He was also known as an inventor, and his invention of the pyrometer, a device for measuring high temperatures (invaluable for determining kiln heats for firings), earned him commendation as a fellow of the Royal Society. Among the many brilliant scientists with whom he was friends or collaborated was Erasmus Darwin, who encouraged him to invest in steam-powered engines. In 1782, Wedgwood's Etruria factory was the first to install such an engine. Wedgwood's daughter Susannah was the mother of Charles Darwin.


Allegedly found in a sarcophagus in the vicinity of Monte del Grano, the vase was initially in the collection of the Italian Cardinal Francesco Maria Bourbon Del Monte and then came into the possession of the Barberini in 1642 and was kept in the Palazzo Barberini . In older representations it is therefore sometimes also referred to as a barberini vase. In 1780 it became the property of a Scotsman and was then sold to Sir William Hamilton , the English envoy in Naples. The next owner was Margaret Cavendish Bentinck , Duchess of Portland, on whom the current name for the vase goes back, and later her son William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland . Finally, the vessel came on loan to the British Museum in London in 1810 . In 1845 the vase was deliberately smashed into 189 pieces by a 19-year-old Irish student the restorer John Doubleday then put the parts back together again. In 1945 the British Museum was finally able to purchase the valuable piece.

Since 1790, the Portland vase has also served as the company logo of the Josiah Wedgwood & Sons porcelain manufacturer . This company also copied it in the form of special stoneware , so-called Wedgwoodware . John Keats ' Ode on a Grecian Urn is said to be inspired by the Portland Vase.

In more recent times, the ancient origin of the Portland vase has been disputed. Instead, the art dealer Jerome M. Eisenberg attributed it to a Renaissance artist he argued that the art of making cameos was far more developed on the Portland vase than on comparable antique vessels, so the amphora must be younger than this. In addition, the mythological figures depicted cannot be clearly classified it could be an inaccurate reproduction of a scene with Mars and Rhea Silvia , which can be seen on a sarcophagus from the Villa Mattei in Rome and has been well known since the Renaissance. After all, the winged, floating Eros is highly unusual for an ancient representation. Eisenberg's thesis was rejected by the experts at the British Museum. However, the exact age of the vase cannot be determined as it would damage the vessel.


Thursday 29th October – The Portland Vase

If you think you know the answer to the question “What did the Romans ever do for us?” ..…..You do? …….Yes, you know about their-straight roads, towns built in strategic spots an enormous east/west wall to stop the Picts from moving south. Maybe you could also mention, bridges and aqueducts, the introduction of regular hot baths, for some, You may even score points for remembering under floor heating….. …but that’s all heavy engineering sort of stuff. What of the finer life-enriching things did we get from them?

Come along to Clent Parish Hall, Church Ave, DY9 9QT , for 8pm and you’ll find out how the clever socks Romans not only created durable glass for day to day use but also some of the loveliest glass vases ever seen. The Portland Vase was a magnificent example of Roman artistry and skill.

Ian Dury and Terri Louise Colledge are our speakers. Exceptionally skilled themselves they can be found creating their own beautiful glass objects at The Glasshouse /Ruskin College, Amblecote, Stourbridge. DY8 4HF. Ian Dury is Heritage Officer of the Webb Corbett Visitor Centre which is part of the same site and well worth a visit. – Between them they will tell us just what happened to the famous Portland Vase, an exhibit at The British Museum and how, in 2012, Ian co -ordinated the project which undertook the challenge to recreate The Portland Vase, as part of a 4oo year celebration of glass making in Stourbridge. Terri carried out the meticulous work over very many hours. They hoped that their endeavors would allow a new generation a chance to understand and marvel at this fine glass wonder of the Roman world.

It will be an illustrated talk. Visitors are very welcome. Small entrance charge which includes refreshment.


Watch the video: The Portland Vase