Bonhams Uncovers Rare Imperial Roman Glass Vase

  • LONDON, United Kingdom
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  • December 27, 2009

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The vase dates from between late First Century B.C. to early First Century A.D .
Bonhams & Butterfields


Bonhams specialists announced this week that they have identified a magnificent Roman cameo glass vase which may, they claim, 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."

The vase dates from between late First Century B.C. to early First Century A.D and stands 33.5cm 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 24cm 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.

For further press information and images please contact Julian Roup on 0207 468 8259 or or

About Bonhams

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son and Neale UK. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America and in August 2003, Goodmans, a leading Australian fine art and antiques auctioneer with salerooms in Sydney, joined the Bonhams Group of Companies. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street, and Knightsbridge, and a further seven throughout the UK. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston in the USA; and Switzerland, France, Monaco, Australia, Hong Kong and Dubai. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 57 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments, go to (01-08) For other press releases, go to

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