Portland vase tie, £30.00
GR 1772.3-20.26 (Vase E 460)
Calyx-krater (wine bowl)
Greek, about 440 BC, attributed to an artist working in the
manner of the Peleus Painter
Made in Athens, Greece; found in the river Gela, Sicily
Identified in the eighteenth century as the 'Apotheosis of Homer'
The vase shows a kithara-player mounting a platform, watched by a winged figure of Victory, a judge and other onlookers. Modern scholars believe that it shows the winner of a music contest. But in the eighteenth century it was thought to show the 'Apotheosis of Homer' - the poet Homer becoming a god.
The vase was part of Sir William Hamilton's (1730-1803) first collection of antiquities, sold to the British Museum in 1772. Hamilton referred cautiously to the scene as the 'Apotheose of Homer, or some celebrated Poet'. But d'Hancarville, author of the catalogue of Hamilton's vase collection, positively identified the central figure as the ancient Greek poet Homer. D'Hancarville shared contemporary admiration for Homer's genius and his interpretation was widely accepted. Like others, including Johann Winckelmann (1717-68), he believed that the sublime quality of Homer's poetry had transformed the visual arts from their primitive origins to the beautiful naturalism displayed here.
Hamilton hoped that his collection would improve the work of artists and artisans in Britain, and this vase did prove to have a considerable influence. John Flaxman (1755-1826) copied the scene for a plaque for mantelpieces and Josiah Wedgwood used it on a jasper ware vase, known as the 'Homeric vase' or 'Pegasus Vase'. Wedgwood donated one of these vases to the British Museum in 1786 and considered it 'the finest & most perfect I have ever made'.
K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)
I. Jenkins and K. Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir Willi (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)