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A black clay vase showing a scene sculpted in white clay, of several nude figures under a tree

A wide black clay vase with a short narrow neck and handles, features a scene carved in white clay on its side. Several nude figures, a snake, and a tree stand out against the black. A woman with a robe around her waist reclines on the ground, while a serpent looks up at her from her lap. She reaches behind her, clasping arms with a standing male figure. A cherub flies over them among the branches of a tree, holding a bow in one hand and a torch in the other. Another man looks on from the other side of the tree.

Gallery Text

The original Greco-Roman Portland Vase was made from cameo glass in the first century CE. In 1786, the Duke of Portland lent it to Josiah Wedgwood, who promptly set his artists to copying it and manufacturing meticulous replicas. Early versions of the vase cracked in the firing process or failed to achieve the desired appearance. Wedgwood’s artisans struggled for four years to perfect their material and techniques, developing a blue-black clay to evoke the dark opaque glass of the original. Ultimately a limited edition — of which this is number nine — was sold, mostly through special viewings at the Wedgwood showroom. The name of John Trevor, who acquired this example from the manufacturer in 1797, is written inside the lip of the vase. One of Wedgwood’s most celebrated works, this was the first example from the subscription edition to enter an American collection. In the early twentieth century, this elaborate wooden stand was built to showcase the figure of Paris at the base of the vase.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Josiah Wedgwood & Sons, British
Portland Vase
Other Titles
Former Title: Copy of the Portland Vase, first edition
Work Type
c. 1795
Creation Place: Europe, United Kingdom, England, Etruria
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2220, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Rococo and Neoclassicism in the Eighteenth Century
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Physical Descriptions

25.8 x 18.5 cm diam. (10 3/16 x 7 5/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: inner lip, manganese pencil, handwritten: 9
  • inscription: inner lip, manganese pencil, handwritten: J. Trevor


Recorded Ownership History
John Trevor, 1797. [Phillips, London, England], sold; to Mrs. Winans, 1876, sold; to Richard Tangye, Birmingham, England, 1882. [Frederick Rathbone, London, England], sold; to Grenville Lindall Winthrop, New York, NY, 1913, bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art


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Publication History

  • [Reproduction only], "Porcelain and Pottery", Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, November 1943)., repr. in b/w, p. 66
  • Jean Gorely, "The Winthrop Collection", Old Wedgwood, Wellesley Press, Inc. (Wellesley, MA, 1943), no. 10, pp. 132-139, p. 135
  • Old Wedgwood from the Bequest of Grenville Lindall Winthrop, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1944), no. 92, p. 36-38; repr. p. 92
  • Jean Gorely, "Pedigreed Wedgwood", The Magazine Antiques (January 1945), pp. 29-31, p. 30
  • Jean Gorely, Wedgwood, M. Barrows and Co. (New York, 1950), pp.122-125, repr. p. 123
  • Wolf Mankowitz, The Portland Vase and the Wedgwood Copies, A. Deutsch (London, England, 1952), pp. 44, 47
  • Dorothy W. Gillerman, ed., Grenville L. Winthrop: Retrospective for a Collector, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, 1969), no. 137, p. 215
  • Vivian Scheidemantel Hawes, [Editorial], National Antiques Review (January 1974), p. 5
  • Aileen Dawson, Masterpieces of Wedgwood in the British Museum, exh. cat., British Museum Publications Limited (London, England, 1984), p. 149, no. 9
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 245, p. 213, repr.
  • Judith A. Neiswander, "Selections from the Ceramics Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University", Ars Ceramica, Wedgwood Society of New York (Bronx, NY, 1991), no. 8, p. 38, repr. as fig. 5
  • Stephan Wolohojian, ed., A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press (U.S.) (New York, 2003), p.14, fig. 9
  • Stephan Wolohojian, Ingres, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Renoir... La Collection Grenville L. Winthrop, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 2003), p. 27, fig. 9
  • Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), p. 129, repr.
  • Casey Monahan, "'If I offer you too much you have the remedy by declining it!:' Frederick Rathbone and the Grenville Lindall Winthrop Collection of Wedgwood at the Harvard Art Museums", Proceedings of the Sixty-Fourth Annual Wedgwood International Seminar, Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, 2019), pp. 33-43, pp. 34-35, 40-41, repr. p. 34 as fig. 1
  • Casey Monahan, "Grenville Winthrop's Portland Vase", Index Magazine, Harvard Art Museums ([e-journal], May 13, 2020),, accessed May 26, 2020

Exhibition History

  • Old Wedgwood from the Bequest of Grenville Lindall Winthrop, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/04/1944 - 09/03/1944
  • Old Wedgwood, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/19/1973 - 05/27/1973
  • Eighteenth Century European Ceramics, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/02/2005 - 06/09/2008
  • Re-View: S424-426 Western Art from 1560 to 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/16/2008 - 06/18/2011
  • 32Q: 2220 18th-19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • Collection Highlights

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Verification Level

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