National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mr Keith M. Deutsher, Governor, 1992
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
18th Century Decorative Arts & Paintings Gallery Level 2, NGV International
Copy of first edition Portland vase, in blue-black jasper, decorated with frieze of classical figures. Base of vase is decorated in relief with half-figure of a man wearing an Oriental headdress. Tripod stand with mirror base to reflect base of vase.
Wedgwood’s Portland vases reproduce the famous classical cameo glass vase that was once in the Barberini family in Rome and then purchased from Sir William Hamilton by the Duchess of Portland. The original Roman vase dates from around the time of the emperor Augustus (27 BC – AD 14) and was either made in Alexandria or Rome; it is now in the British Museum. It was probably John Flaxman who first alerted Josiah Wedgwood to the vase, then in Sir William Hamilton’s possession in London. In 1784 he wrote, ‘I wish you may soon come to town to see William Hamilton’s vase, it is the finest production of Art that has been brought to England and seems to be the very apex of perfection to which you are endeavouring to bring your bisque and jasper; … engraved in the same manner as a Cameo and of the grandest and most perfect Greek sculpture’. Wedgwood was assisted with the relief work by his son Josiah II and by the modellers William Hackwood and Henry Webber. Several sets of reliefs were made before Wedgwood was satisfied and a long series of experiments was undertaken in order to develop the desired blue-black jasper body, which would imitate the dark blue glass of the original and to create the transparent effect of glass. Wedgwood’s Portland vase was in many ways his masterwork, calling on his utmost powers as artist, chemist, potter and entrepreneur. The first successful example was shown to Queen Charlotte in 1790 and also to Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy, so that he might approve it as a faithful copy. It was then exhibited in Holland and Germany. About forty-five examples were made of the first edition, the only edition made in the lifetime of Josiah I. Thirty-nine surviving examples are known.