The Warwick Vase
The Warwick Vase is a colossal marble vase measuring nearly six feet high, which dates from the 2nd century A.D. It was found in fragments in 1770 at the bottom of a lake at Hadrian's Villa near Rome by a group of Englishmen and was acquired by Sir William Hamilton, at the time Ambassador to Naples. Hamilton in turn sold it, now restored, to his kinsman, Charles Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick, who set it up in the grounds of Warwick Castle. The vase had been engraved by Piranesi in 1778, and these prints provided the inspiration for versions of the vase in silver and silver-gilt during the early part of the 19th century.
Of his marble vase, the Earl of Warwick wrote 'I built a noble greenhouse, and . . . placed in it a Vase, considered as the finest remains of Grecian art extant for size and beauty.' The vase, however, did have one critic. The Hon. John Byng, later 5th Viscount Torrington and author of a series of fascinating and at times irascible journals of his rides through England, spoke thus of the Roman monument when describing his visit to Warwick Castle: 'The upper court is environed by old walls and turrets, o'erhung with ivy; the portcullis down; and nothing to disgrace the taste of antiquity, but a vulgar overgrown Roman basin in the centre of the court; which I would toss into the centre of the river, or give to the church for a font!' (C. Bruyn Andrews, ed. The Torrington Diaries, a selection from the tours of the Hon. John Byng between the years 1781 and 1794, London, 1954, p. 102).