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Full-size trial copy of the Portland Vase showing firing problems; Blistered. c.1789 - c.1789

IMG_1370, © Wedgwood Museum
    © Wedgwood Museum

Full-size trial copy of the Portland Vase showing firing problems; Blistered. c.1789

Full-size trial copies of the Portland Vase showing firing problems; Blistered. c.1789. Black jasper with white reliefs, this vase is a copy after the famous Roman cameo-glass vase once owned by the Duchess of Portland. The original Roman cameo-glass vase, known as the Barberini vase, was made by Alexandrian craftsmen about AD50. It was brought back to England by Sir William Hamilton who sold it to the Duchess of Portland, from whom it takes its modern name, the Portland Vase. On her death the celebrated vase was included in the sale of her personal museum when it was purchased by her son, the 3rd Duke of Portland. Three days later Wedgwood borrowed the original vase and commenced his nearly four year long struggle to copy the vase in his jasper body. Josiah working with his chief artists, Henry Webber and modellers William Hackwood and William Wood, started to experiment to reproduce the blue-black colour of the original glass vase. The technical problems in making the vase proved more difficult than Josiah had anticipated. In July 1789 Wedgwood wrote that having made several defective copies he could see his way to completing the vase.The first perfect copy was produced in September 1789. The vase was initially privately shown to his friends, including Dr Erasmus Darwin, before it was seen by Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy who declared the vase to be a, ‘faithful imitation, both in regards of the general effects and the most minute details of the parts’. The initial vases were sold by subscription as well as displayed in London, with admission by ticket only and taken on a mini-grand tour of Europe. The Portland Vase has become the icon of Wedgwood’s jasper production and has continued to be produced to today. The vase is counted amongst the greatest technical achievements of Josiah Wedgwood’s life.

  • Type of object: Ornamental ware/vase
  • Year produced: c.1789
  • Body: Jasper
  • Material: ceramic
  • Decoration: applied
  • Accession number: 4949
  • Dimensions: 255 mm (height), 190 mm (diameter)

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    Wedgwood announced his intention of becoming, ‘Vase Maker General to the Universe' in a letter to Bentley on 1st May 1769. His vases were enormously successful when they were first shown in the London Showrooms. It was reported in May 1769 that, ‘There was no getting to the door for Coaches, nor into the rooms for Ladies and Gent.n. & ... Vases was all the cry'.