Portland Vase, c. 1-25 AD
24.5 (height) x 17.7 (diameter) cm
Rome, Italy


This two-handled vase is one of the best examples of a cameo-glass vessel from antiquity, admired both for its delicate beauty and skillful technical execution. After the translucent dark blue glass was blown into shape, it was covered with an opaque layer of white glass, re-blown, and left to cool, before a skilled gem-cutter created the finely detailed mythological scenes in relief. While scholars continue to debate the precise narratives, most seem to relate to the themes of love and marriage, evoked by the presence of Eros, the winged god of love, shown clutching his trademark bow and torch.
Damaged during antiquity, the bottom of the original vase probably ended in a point, much like a similar vessel found in Pompeii. Unfortunately, the Portland Vase also suffered severe damage in 1845 when a visitor to the British Museum smashed it into more than 80 pieces, prompting numerous expert restoration efforts that have returned the vase to its present state.
Though unknown exactly when and where it was found, for centuries the object has captured the fascination of artists, scholars, and collectors. The vase was named for one of its many collectors, the British Duchess of Portland, who acquired the piece in 1784.


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