Skip to main content

Erasmus Darwin's Wedgwood Copy of the Portland Vase: C.20-1984

An image of Vase

Terms of use

These images are provided for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons License (BY-NC-ND). To license a high resolution version, please contact our image library who will discuss fees, terms and waivers.

Download this image

Creative commons explained - what it means, how you can use our's and other people's content.

Alternative views

Object information

Current Location: In storage


Erasmus Darwin's Wedgwood Copy of the Portland Vase


Factory: Wedgwood, Josiah




Portland Vase copy, blue-black jasperware with applied white reliefs; on the sides classical scenes; on the base, the head of Paris

Jasper, solid blue-black with white reliefs. Squat ovoid body with incurved neck and everted rim, with two elbowed handles, and disk base. Decorated with two scenes separated by bearded male masks below the handles. Reading from left to right: Side 1. Two square pillars supporting an architrave, behind which is a small shrub. In front of the pillars a nude young man holding a drape behind him in his right hand, steps forward to take the arm of a partly draped woman who sits on the ground, looking back at him, and has a snake in her lap. Eros, holding a bow in his left hand and a torch in his right, flies overhead looking back to the young man. On the right, a bearded man stands in three-quarter profile to left, with his right foot on a heap of stones in front of a tree. He rests his chin on his right hand and his right elbow on his right thigh. To the right behind him there is a slender tree. Side 2. A square pillar with a capital, beside which sits a nude young man on a pile of rocks. He has a drape over his right leg, and looks to the right towards a woman, who reclines on pile of rocks in front of a tree. Her lower body is draped, and she holds a torch pointing downwards in her left hand, and has her right arm bent with the hand on her head. In front of her is a square stone with central hole and chamfered edge. On the right is a nude woman, seated on a separate pile of rocks, looking back towards the other two figures. She is partly draped, and holds a sceptre in her left hand. On the base, there is a spray of foliage above the head of a young man, in profile to right, wearing a Phrygian cap, and a cloak, and having his right forefinger to his lips. Accompanied by original fitted travelling case (C.20A-1980)


History note: Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Breadsall Priory, Derbyshire; Miss Emma Darwin (1784-1818); Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin MD (1786-1859); his widow, Harriet Jane, Lady Darwin (d.1866); Reginald Darwin (1818-92), Tern; Admiral Sacheverel Darwin (1844-1900), Tern; his half-second cousin, Charles Darwin's second son, Sir George Howard Darwin FRS (1845-1912), Cambridge; Sir Charles Galton Darwin FRS (1887-1862); George Pember Darwin, by whom lent to the Fitzwilliam in 1963.

Legal notes

Purchased with the Cunliffe Fund, a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and grant-in-aid from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Measurements and weight

Height: 25.2 cm
Width: 19.1 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Etruria ⪼ Staffordshire ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bought (1984) by Darwin, George Pember


18th Century, Late
George III
Production date: AD 1789 : probably early autumn of 1789


The production of jasper ware copies of the cameo glass Portland Vase was one of Wedgwood's greatest achievements. The dowager Duchess of Portland, who purchased it from Sir William Hilton in 1784, died in 1785, and a year later Wedgwood borrowed it from her son, the third Duke of Portland, who had bought it at the sale of his mother's collection. After studying it thoroughly, Wedgwood, his son Josiah, and his modellers Webber and Hackwood experimented for three years before the first successful copy was achieved in the late summer of 1789. The exact number of Portland Vase copies made before Wedgwood's death in 1795 is not clear. Surveys of extant vases and documents in the Wedgwood archive indicate that it was between 40 and 50, of which some were defective. This is one of only three known to have retained their original travelling cases.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work


Materials used in production

blue-black and white Jasper ware

Techniques used in production

Throwing : Solid blue-black jasper, thrown and turned, with applied press-moulded white reliefs

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.20-1984
Primary reference Number: 11615
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Tuesday 17 January 2023 Last processed: Wednesday 13 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

This record can be cited in the Harvard Bibliographic style using the text below:

The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Erasmus Darwin's Wedgwood Copy of the Portland Vase" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-04-13 05:15:59

Citation for Wikipedia

To cite this record on Wikipedia you can use this code snippet:

{{cite web|url= |title=Erasmus Darwin's Wedgwood Copy of the Portland Vase |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2024-04-13 05:15:59|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

API call for this record

To call these data via our API (remember this needs to be authenticated) you can use this code snippet:

Bootstrap HTML code for reuse

To use this as a simple code embed, copy this string:

<div class="text-center">
    <figure class="figure">
        <img src=""
        alt="Erasmus Darwin's Wedgwood Copy of the Portland Vase"
        class="img-fluid" />
        <figcaption class="figure-caption text-info">Erasmus Darwin's Wedgwood Copy of the Portland Vase</figcaption>

More objects and works of art you might like

The Portland Vase

Accession Number: P.548-1985

Copy of the Portland Vase

Accession Number: C.2-1904

Suggested products from Curating Cambridge

You might be interested in this...

Sign up for updates

Updates about future exhibitions and displays, family activities, virtual events & news. You'll be the first to know...