Description & Technical information

The supremely elegant Portland Vase was “another icon of ancient art” which together with the Warwick Vase was copied by Rundell’s in silver-gilt. The form and decorative scheme of the Roman vessel were faithfully adhered to but the silver vessel is nevertheless a technical masterpiece and a wonderfully satisfying object with great subtleties in the textures and finish of the surfaces.

Despite its great beauty the form did not lend itself to adaptation to a number of purposes in the same way as the ubiquitous Warwick Vase. Only a few of the vases which were fitted as wine coolers were produced by the firm between 1820 and 1824. The upper section could be removed to allow a bottle to be placed in the bowl; the vase can be inverted without any water leaking out.

The figures around the sides of the vase are thought to depict the story of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (D. E. L. Haynes, The Portland Vase, 1975, pp. 16-20) although there have been many interpretations of the figures and the disc in the base probably depicts Paris.

The dark blue glass Portland Vase is now thought to be the upper section of a taller amphora-shaped vessel the bottom of which must have been broken off and the circular unrelated disc inserted at a later date. It is not known when the vase was first discovered but the first record of it was in the collections of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte (1549-1627). It changed hands on a number of occasions until in about 1780 it was acquired by the antiquarian James Byres in Rome. He in turn sold it to Sir William Hamilton, British Ambassador to the Court of Naples, who was also to purchase the Warwick Vase, who brought it to London in 1783. He sold it in the following year for 1,800 guineas to the Dowager Duchess of Portland for her museum of natural and artificial curiosities. On her death in 1785 it was acquired at auction by William, 3rd Duke of Portland and in 1810 was deposited at the British Museum for safekeeping by 4th Duke of Portland. In 1845 it was smashed into over two hundred pieces by William Lloyd although it was successfully restored. It was finally acquired by the British Museum in 1945.

Weight: 1926g, 61.9oz

Date:  1846
Period:  1750-1850, 19th century
Origin:  England, London
Medium: silver
Signature: Inscribed to the rim `Presented by Lady Caroline Lascelles to James N. Merrinan, 2nd July 1851`.

Dimensions: 26 cm (10¹/₄ inches)
Categories: Silver