7th February 1845. Portland Vase.

Many exhibits reposing in the British Museum were acquired as a result of Pax Britannia of Empire, none more famous than the Roman glass, Portland Vase (c 5-25 CE).   

The vase was first recorded in Rome from c 1600 and since 1810 has been intermittently in the British Museum before finally being purchased in 1945.

The violet and blue glass is surrounded with a single continuous white-glass cameo, making two distinct scenes of seven figures, a snake and two bearded and horned-heads below the handles.

It was c 1778 that Sir William Hamilton, British Ambassador in Naples bought the vase from a Scottish Art dealer. Hamilton arranged its sale to Margaret Cavendish-Harley, widow of William Bentick, 2nd Duke of Portland and sold at auction in 1786.

Passing through the 3rd Duke it was lent to the potter, Josiah Wedgwood who by 1790 finally managed to make a copy after spending four years trying to replicate the vase, but in black Jasper Ware, not glass. 

The genuine vase was then loaned to the British Museum and now known as the Portland Vase. Then came disaster Today in 1845 when it was smashed by a crazed Irishman.

Thirty-seven fragments were lost and only by meticulous restoration was it put back together, but later over the years requiring further attention as the adhesive deteriorated.

In 1932 put up for sale by 6th Duke it failed to realise a reserve price and it was then that the British Museum acquired it from the 7th Duke in 1945.

1st image

1st image. Ht.24cm: Diameter. 17.7 cm. Cameo Glass.


2nd image.











The last restoration of the Portland Vase was in 1987 after research and use of epoxy-resin has restored it to its former glory.

Many replicas have been made including those of Josiah Wedgwood and Son Ltd now in the Victoria & Albert Museum (no 2418-1901) and one in the Fitzwilliam Museum. 


A bronze statue on a stone pedestal of Josiah Wedgwood by Edward Davis, is in Wilton Square, Stoke-on-Trent, and shown buckled and bewigged, one thumb wrapped round his Portland Vase of black and white ‘jasper ware’ from the Roman original.


wikipedia.org/Portland Vase Images.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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