Copy of Portland Vase
England, late 19th century CE
Sir DJ Tata Collection
The Portland Vase, a delicately carved Roman cameo glass vessel of deepest cobalt blue covered with opaque milky-white glass, was probably made about the time of the birth of Christ, during the reign of Augustus (27 BCE - 14 CE), in Rome. It is one of the most celebrated of all antiquities. It is not entirely in its original form and was almost certainly made as an amphora with a pointed base, probably broken in antiquity and repaired with an unrelated cameo disc. The subject of the reliefs has never been definitively explained and many interpretations have been proposed.
Its fame in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, is due to the brilliant series of copies made in black jasper ware by Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95) after he was lent the original by the 3rd Duke of Portland in 1786. Wedgwood was one of the most innovative figures in the history of English ceramics. His many experiments with different kinds of bodies and glazes led to the perfection, around 1771, of a high-fired stoneware which he called “Jasper”. This was the material used for his Portland Vase copies. The subtlety of the original reliefs proved difficult to replicate, however, and the first successful copies date from 1789. The Wedgwood Company produced many copies of the vase and dating this one is not easy. It must date from before 1860, however, when the factory introduced a three-letter dating system. The inclusion of the Paris cameo under the base may suggest a date before 1845, when the British Museum detached it from the body and displayed it separately.