Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Portland Vase - Another Kind of Sensual Beauty

Base of the Portland Vase, Rome 1st Century BC

I used to wander round the British Museum to while away Saturday afternoons. And often ended up in front of the famous Portland Vase.

Such a cameo was created when a partially blown piece of glass was dipped in white glass, and the blowing continued. Resulting in an object with two layers. The outer white layer was then carved away to form images on a darker background underneath.

This cameo glass vase was made in Rome between 30 and 20 BC. And was possibly cut by Dioskourides, due to stylistic and technical similarities with gems known to have been carved by this craftsman round the same time. The meaning of the various scenes depicted is much debated and it is accepted by many that they do not represent a single unified set.

The vase is said to have been discovered around 1582 by Fabrizio Lazzaro, excavating the tomb of the Emperor Alexander Severus. Latterly, it was inherited in 1786 by William Cavendish-Bentinck, third Duke of Portland, who loaned and then sold it to the British Museum after it was smashed to pieces by a drunken vandal, William Lloyd, in 1845.

The refinement of the carving is exquisite, as seen in these details.

The modeling of the forms of the bodies and their overlaying with draperies has none of the awkwardness you would expect from a small piece of sculptured glass. It is 25 centimetres in height.

The base is the result either of a repair or of a conversion from an original amphora form. In antiquity. It shows Paris, son of King Priam, an attribution due to the soft conical cap worn by inhabitants of Phrygia, central Anatolia.

The extraordinary beauty of the vase reminds of the silver Warren Cup (1st century AD Rome), which I posted on, in this blog, 7 March 07. There is a similar calm easy sensuality. Though it is homoerotic and more directly sexual in the Warren Cup.

1 comment:

  1. a friend sent me this email -

    'There is a nice little book (2004) on the Portland Vase, detailing
    its history, destruction, and its several reconstructions.

    The Portland Vase: the Extraordinary Odyssey of a Mysterious Roman
    Author: Robin Brooks
    ISBN: 0060510994'

    and of course you can google for information too