Bonhams Uncovers Rare Imperial Roman Glass Vase

Bonhams specialists in London have announced that they have identified a magnificent Roman cameo glass vase which may, they say, be the most important of its kind in the world.

Chantelle Rountree, head of antiquities at Bonhams, said: “It is of major international importance. Academically and artistically it is priceless. Scholars will be evaluating this find for decades.”

Roman Glass Vase
The vase dates from between late First Century B.C. to early First Century A.D and stands 33.5cm high. Photo: Bonhams

The vase dates from between late First Century B.C. to early First Century A.D and stands 33.5 cm. high. Only 15 other Roman cameo glass vases and plaques are known to exist today.

These very rare vessels were highly artistic, luxury items, produced by the Roman Empire’s most skilled craftsmen. They are formed from two layers of glass – cobalt blue with a layer of white on top – which is cut down after cooling to create the cameo-style decoration.

Items of this kind were produced, it is thought, within a period of only two generations. They would have been owned by distinguished Roman families.
Until now, the most famous example has been the Portland vase, held by the British Museum. This is smaller, standing at only 24 cm. high. It is also missing its base and has been restored three times.

The recently identified vase is also more complex than others of its kind, being decorated with around 30 figures and a battle scene around the lower register. By comparison, the Portland vase has just seven figures.

Bonhams experts believe that this magnificent artefact could rewrite the history books on cameo vases. Unlike the Portland vase, it still has its base and lower register and will therefore add significantly to the archaeological understanding of these vessels.

In co-operation with leading experts in the field and with the present owner of the vase Bonhams will be carrying out detailed research over the coming months into the historical background of the vase and its miraculous survival as well as into its more recent history and chain of ownership.

The vase was presented publicly for the first time at a conference of the world’s leading glass experts in Greece in September. The presentation created huge excitement among delegates, who were drawn from the world’s leading museums and cultural institutions.