The 'Portland Vase' is a celebrated masterpiece of Roman glass dating from the reign of the Emperor Augustus (27BC-14AD) which arrived at the British Museum in 1810. Discovered in 1582, south-east of Rome inside a sarcophagus of a large burial chamber, this remarkable blue-black glass vase with bas-reliefs of white cameo figures was known to Roman tourists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the 'Barbarini Vase' because of its ownership by that family.
The renowned antiquarian Sir William Hamilton acquired the vase in the 1780s, selling it on to the Duchess of Portland. Described by the diarist Horace Walpole as 'perfectly sober, and intoxicated only by empty vases', the Duchess installed the vase in her Portland Museum, Whitehall, in 1784. Following her death, the Duchess's son acquired the vase and loaned it to Josiah Wedgwood who produced ceramic copies. It gained further renown when published in Henry Moses's Collection of Antique Vases, etc. from Various Museums and Collections of 1814. Although entrusted to the British Museum for safekeeping, in 1845 the Portland Vase was smashed into some 200 pieces by a madman. The vase subsequently underwent a series of restorations and remains one of the best known exhibits at the British Museum.