- Paperback: 250 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; Reprint edition (Aug. 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060511001
- ISBN-13: 978-0060511005
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,493,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Portland Vase: The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Mysterious Roman Treasure Paperback – 1 Aug 2005
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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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
The vase itself is a little object, something less than ten inches tall. It is not pottery, like most ancient vases, but blue glass, decorated with white figures of classical male and female nudes. The argument about who they are includes Jupiter and Venus among the most frequently sighted, with Orpheus and Eurydice, Pluto, Castor and Pollux, and a host of others (including, anachronistically, the physician Galen). Once the vase left the family of Pope Urban VIII (sold to pay gambling debts) it belonged eventually to the successive Dukes of Portland. The fourth duke leant it to the British Museum, where it was smashed by a confused visitor in 1845. The 200 pieces and smaller shards were gathered up, and painstakingly glued together by the best restorer in the land. The vase is timeless, but repairs are temporary; it has been dismantled and re-repaired in 1949 and again forty years later.
The vase's story, told here with eagerness and amusement, is one full of surprises and brushes with famous admirers like Wedgwood, Keats, and Blake. There are three sections to the book, consisting of "The Lip" (the prologue), "The Body" (consisting of nineteen "fragments" where most of the history is given) and "The Base" (consisting of an epilogue). There thus does not seem to be any missing chapter, and the base of the vase, a separate piece, is discussed at different points within the fragments. There is much to be learned here about inheritance practices, tourism, museum culture, and art markets. The sixth duke asked for the vase back in 1929, when world finances were crashing, so he could sell it. It was expected to fetch at least £50,000, but failed, and went back to the museum. The seventh duke offered it for sale to the museum in 1944, for a song, £5,000, and there it remains. As Brooks writes, "Presumably the vase will stay in the museum until civilization, or London, or both, come to an end."