Only complete Roman cameo glass vase found

Bonham’s has announced that they’ve received a uniquely complete and intricate Roman cameo glass vase.

Complete Roman cameo glass vaseRoman cameo glass is extremely rare — there are only 15 known pieces — and the previous top-of-the-line item was the beautiful Portland vase which is missing its base and has only 7 carved figures on the surface. This complete vase has 30 figures.

It dates from somewhere between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D., and stands a dramatic 13 inches (33.5 cm) high.

This type of vase is formed from two layers of cobalt blue glass with a layer of white on top which is cut down after cooling to create the cameo-style decoration.

A spokesman added: “Items of this kind were produced, it is thought, within a period of only two generations. […]

The recently identified vase is also said to be more complex than others of its kind 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 vessels.

It’s not for sale. Yet. The owner is a “private European collector” who is currently passing it around various museums and experts for further study.

Giant red flag right there. Something’s not kosher about this, most likely a little something called loot. A piece of this stature doesn’t come out of nowhere. If it had been in any known collections, even private ones, somebody would have documented it. For it to surface now with no history of ownership … Well, it doesn’t bode well.

It could be perfectly legitimate. It could have been kept a secret in some reclusive millionaire’s castle for hundreds of years. It’s just that those kinds of stories tend to spring from the pages of novels rather than newspapers.

For Bonham’s to have been allowed to publicize it suggests they’re priming the market for a major sale. In this day and age, the old “anonymous private collector” shtick might not fly, especially not with such an extraordinary piece.


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Comment by steve
2009-10-18 07:30:58

beautiful,were did you get it,

Comment by livius drusus
2009-10-18 10:40:09

I’m not sure what you mean. I linked to the story.

Comment by Ordinary Jill
2009-10-18 10:15:02

I’m skeptical. This may turn out to be a skillful and brazen forgery rather than a looted object of unknown provenance that just happens to be the only intact speciman of an extremely rare form. I hope they can analyze the glass to check for modern airborn pollutants.

Comment by livius drusus
2009-10-18 10:42:38

Roman cameo glass is a very tough nut to forge. Only a highly skilled glassmaker and gem cutter could pull it off, which is why as far as we know there aren’t any forgeries floating about.

It could be a fake, sure, but that’s a far more complex proposition than somebody trying to pawn off a recently excavated piece as having a record of ownership.

Comment by Vetraius Vetus
2009-12-23 06:04:27

Yes,such glasses can be scientifically analyzed and compared to known data bases.Therefore the question of authenticity easily answered.

The ownership issue is more problematical,but usually possession is nine tenths of the law. Unless the piece comes from a country where all antiquities are nationalized i.e.,Egypt,the title is usually with the owner.Whether laws are broken moving something from one place to another,it does not change the title of the temporal ownership.

Comment by livius drusus
2009-12-23 08:16:55

It does, actually, although auction houses often choose to look the other way. The export of antiquities is closely regulated in almost all antiquities-heavy countries, and 103 countries, including Britain where the cameo vase now resides, have joined the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

This is why Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the US has stopped hundreds of sales and repatriated looted pieces to their countries of origin.

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Comment by Στέφανος
2010-03-04 15:37:23

I think it’s time to change the point of view on how the roman cameos where made.
It doesn’t matter if the craftsman used five years or five days to do his job, it does not add to the value of the piece, it will stand the same whith all his beauty.
So please forget wheel cutting, engraving,scratchin, cold anealed glass of two layers with all of his tensions and see please the following link:
If you think on how “Terra Sigillata” was made, it makes even more sense.
Even more. i bet the lead content of the white layer of this cameo, will be much higer than the blue glass under

Comment by Vintage Vase
2010-06-17 19:05:25

I am more hopeful than skeptical, if it is in fact an authentic Roman Cameo Glass Vase then it will be a treasure that can help to further the known history of ancient artifacts. If it isn’t, well it’s a beautiful and intricate piece at least. I especially like the body’s detailed figure’s.

Comment by livius drusus
2010-09-23 16:11:39

With such a vague provenance, I’m not sure it can tell us all that much about ancient artifacts.

Comment by t-rex
2011-12-14 09:37:34

Several thoughts. First, if it’s a fake, the skill and labor that went into making it would have been just about prohibitively expensive. Would a forger go to that much trouble on the chance of duping someone into buying it? On the other hand, the resemblance of the shoulders, handles and neck to the Portland vase is so close as to make me uneasy, especially since it’s widely agreed that the Portland vase once had a lower register below the surviving section. This vase, unlike the Portland, has a clearly identifiable subject. Those figures Castor and Pollux carrying off the daughters of Leucippus, and in the lower register, fighting it out with the brothers of the women. It’s a popular theme on Roman sarcophagi, but the figures here seem to conflate a couple of iconographical elements involving other stories about the Dioscuri. I don’t know. I’m not going to buy it, put it that way ;)

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