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The Portland Vase: The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Mysterious Roman Treasureby Robin Brooks
Synopses & Reviews
Created for an emperor, exhumed from a burial ground, coveted, traded, smashed, restored, and stuffed full of incident and intrigue, the Portland Vase — the most famous of all Roman antiquities — has captivated everyone who has come into contact with it. Robin Brooks's The Portland Vase is a great romp through history with this fragile, enigmatic vessel, which has touched the lives of an array of compelling characters.
Following the vase's journey across Europe over the centuries, we meet the notorious tomb-robber-cum-budding-archaeologist Fabrizio Lazzaro, who "discovered" the vase; Pope Urban VIII, who hoped to enhance his image by acquiring it; the Princess of Palestrina, who supported her nasty gambling habit by auctioning it off; the Duchess of Portland, who kept her ownership of the vase a secret; the ceramics genius Josiah Wedgwood, who devoted nearly a lifetime to trying to create a satisfactory reproduction; the Irishman who shattered it and the restorers who have since repaired it; and a host of other politicians, dilettantes, and scam artists. Their stories — how they came by the vase, how they disposed of it, and how it affected them — result in a narrative rich with passion, inspiration, and jealousy that spans more than two thousand years.
Made before the birth of Christ, when glassblowing was still a new art, the Portland Vase remains unparalleled in its craftsmanship. Surprisingly, despite the extraordinary technological advances of the past two thousand years, how, exactly, the vase was made remainsa mystery. But this is only one of the riddles that still surrounds the vase. Today art historians still can't agreeon the identity of the figures depicted on it, or what story these figures are meant to tell. Furthermore, who made the vase? What was it used for?
The Portland Vase remains one of the art world's greatest enigmas. A continuing inspiration for artists, poets, historians, and art collectors, the vase now sits quietly in a little glass case in the British Museum — seemingly inviolate, perfect, eternal.
"The 9¾-inch glass vase, now housed in the British Museum, is a deep opaque blue, overlaid with white glass in which scenes of mythological figures are cut. It is renowned for its delicate beauty, but the meaning of its decorative scenes has not been ascertained and its origins remain mysterious. Brooks, a former actor who writes radio plays for the BBC, explores the theories and controversies surrounding the vase (shown in an eight-page b&w photo insert) in a breezy anecdotal style, focusing on those who have owned the vase and the antiquarians who have studied it. Considered to be the work of a glassblower from ancient Rome (date uncertain), the intact vase was possibly discovered, although there is no real proof, in an ancient tomb outside Rome in 1582. The vase's first recorded owner was Cardinal del Monte of Italy; it then passed into the hands of the Barberini family for 150 years. Later owned by the Portland family, the vase was purchased by the British Museum (after many mishaps) in 1945. Although there is a wealth of interpretation concerning the sculpted scenes on the vase, no one judgment has been accepted. Brooks competently details the three restorations the vase has undergone (it was shattered by a vandal in 1845) and provides an overview of ongoing research." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Robin Brooks is an actor and author living in England. He has written several plays for BBC Radio. This is his first book.
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