ATG columnist Richard Falkiner has hailed the Roman cameo glass vase which has been unveiled by Bonhams as “the greatest classical find since the Portland Vase”.
Mr Falkiner, who is an antiquities consultant both to the
Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and also to Bonhams was among the first
to inspect the vase in person when it arrived at the auctioneers'
Strikingly similar to the Portland Vase, one of the British
Museum's greatest treasures, it is larger, in better condition and
with superior decoration, say Bonhams, who believe it could be the
most important artefact of its kind in the world. Indeed, Mr
Falkiner believes there is strong evidence that it is cut by the
Chantelle Rountree, head of antiquities at Bonhams, said: "It is
of major international importance. Academically and artistically it
is priceless. Scholars will be evaluating this find for
The vase dates from between late first century BC and the early
first century AD and stands 13in (33.5cm) high. Only 15 other Roman
cameo glass vases and plaques are known to exist today.
These very rare vessels were highly accomplished luxury items,
produced by the Roman Empire's most skilled craftsmen. They are
formed from two layers of glass - cobalt blue with a layer of white
on top - which is cut down after cooling to create the cameo-style
Items of this kind were produced, it is thought, within a period
of only two generations. They would have been owned by
distinguished Roman families.
Until now, the most famous example has been the Portland Vase.
This is smaller, standing at only 9in (24cm) high. It is also
missing its base and has been restored three times.
The recently identified vase is also more complex than others of
its kind, being decorated with around 30 figures and a battle scene
around the lower register. By comparison, the Portland vase has
just seven figures.
Bonhams' experts believe that this magnificent artefact could
rewrite the history books on cameo vases. Unlike the Portland Vase,
it still has its base and lower register and will therefore add
significantly to the archaeological understanding of these
The vase is thought to have resided in a private European
collection for some time. The collector is a long-term client of
Mr Falkiner, a long-standing vetter of antiquities at the
Grosvenor House fair, told ATG: "As far as I can see, the repairs
make it look as though it has been out of the ground since at least
the 18th century, possibly the 16th."
Bonhams say that, in co-operation with leading experts in the
field and with the present owner of the vase, they will be carrying
out detailed research over the coming months into the historical
background of the vase and its miraculous survival, as well as into
its more recent history and chain of ownership.
The vase was presented publicly for the first time at the 18th
Congress of the International Association for the History of Glass
at Thessaloniki in Greece in September, where it was viewed by
around 200 of the world's leading glass specialists.
"The presentation created huge excitement among delegates, who
were drawn from the world's leading museums and cultural
institutions," said a Bonhams spokesman, "and there is no doubt
about its authenticity."
By Ivan Macquisten
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