The Portland Vase: Roman or Rennaissance?

Last year, Jerome Eisenberg, a major expert and adviser to the Met and other museums, expressed the opinion that the mysterious Portland Vase may not be of Roman origin, after all, but that it was made during the Renaissance.

But many other experts oppose this idea and believe the vase is truly ancient. But what is most intriguing about this vase is not its dating, nor its origin, but the actual meaning of the two unusual scenes depicted on it.

One side features a young man entwines his arm with the arm of a seated woman who holds a snake. Cupid flies above them, while an older man is looking from the right. On the reverse a young man gazes at a reclining woman holding a torch. At the right a seated woman holds a scepter.

Is one of the scenes the Judgment of Paris? Perhaps the dream of Olympias pregnant with Alexander the Great, conceived by Zeus Ammon coming to her as a snake? No, wait, it’s Cleopatra and Marc Anthoy. Or isn’t it the myth of Adonis and Proserpina?

Anyway, what is true is that pages and pages have been written about them, but no single theory has been deemed completely satisfactory.

The original vase is kept at the British Museum in London (UK).

You can look it up here at the Museum’s website by typing “portland vase” after clicking on “continue” and check both scenes to come up with your own interpretation!

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3 thoughts on “The Portland Vase: Roman or Rennaissance?

  1. David Hill says:

    The photo you show on the webpage, although taken in the British Museum, is actually NOT of the Portland vase itself, but one of the ceramic copies made by Josiah Wedgewood. The Portland Vase is in a different gallery. And it’s broken.

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