The Barberini Vase

Craftsmen trained in Egypt probably made the original cameo-glass vase in Rome about 25BC. Nothing is known of its early history. It is first recorded in an Italian collection, that of the Del Monte family, in the early 17th century when it was appreciated for its fine quality and workmanship. It was soon sold to the Barberini family, in whose palazzo in Rome it stood and from where it got its name. The vase’s reputation grew and it became, by the early 18th century, an essential treasure to see while on a Grand Tour.

When the Barberini family fell on hard times their collection was dispersed and the vase was purchased by an antiquities dealer, who in turn sold it to Sir William Hamilton. He, as the king’s envoy in Naples, brought it back to England on his next spell of leave, with the express intention of selling it to raise funds to feed his hunger for collecting antiquities. ‘I wish you may soon come to town to see Wm. Hamilton’s Vase, it is the finest production of Art that has been brought to England and seems to be the very apex of perfection to which you are endeavouring to bring your bisque & jasper...’ John Flaxman Jr wrote to Josiah Wedgwood on 5 February 1784.

Images

Aquatint published in Hamilton's volume of engravings of the Barberini vase, commemorating his tran

Aquatint published in Hamilton's volume of engravings of the Barberini vase, commemorating his tran