The Portland Vase

Josiah Wedgwood I’s greatest achievement, the Portland Vase is a testament to the tenacity, persistence and experimental nature of our founder.

“My great work is The Portland Vase.”

Josiah I’s obsession with the Barberini Vase (named due to being owned by the famous Barberini family at one time) led him through thousands of experiments over nearly 5 years to create a perfect copy of the 1st century BC cameo glass vase.

Where it all began

After several years of experimentation and countless trials that were rigorously recorded, Josiah I finally perfected his iconic material in 1774.

Jasperware is known for its unglazed matte “biscuit” finish and its capability to take on colour throughout the clay. The material is highly prized by artists and collectors due to its fine-grained smooth texture and its uncanny hardness.

Josiah I set out to copy the Barberini Vase using his new invention, showing that his modern manufacturing techniques and skilled craftsmen could mirror the pinnacle of Roman antiquities.

How it’s made

At our factory in England, the body of the Portland Vase is hand thrown on a potter’s wheel in Jasper clay, then engine turned to remove excess clay and refine the silhouette of the whole piece. The bas relief figures and asymmetrical handles are then added to the vase and the entire vase is then fired in the kiln.

Jasperware is capable of taking on a multitude of colours depending on what mix of metal oxides are added to the Jasper clay before firing. To achieve the blue-black cameo glass colour like the original Barberini Vase, Josiah produced a special mixture of Jasper clay, resulting in the iconic matte black finish of the First Edition Portland Vase.


Made in England
Each Piece is Made to Order. Call +44 (0)1782 282320


Made in England
Each Piece is Made to Order. Call +44 (0)1782 282320


Made in England
Each Piece is Made to Order. Call +44 (0)1782 282320

Trial and Error
1786 - 1789

To ensure the Portland Vase was an accurate copy, moulds of the original vase were carefully made with the sculptural elements being modelled in wax and plaster. The white bas reliefs were authentically reproduced in Jasperware by sculptors, John Flaxman and Henry Webber.

Achieving an accurate and consistent kiln temperature was a key issue when reproducing the vase in Jasperware. To help find a solution, Josiah I had invented the pyrometer to record the high kiln temperatures, but trials still produced problems during the intense firing process, such as a bubbled surface and the bas relief ornamentation not sticking when fired.

Perfecting the vase

In September 1789, more than three years after being lent the vase and after countless experiments and trials, Josiah finally managed to create a satisfactory version of the Portland Vase.

The next month, Wedgwood was able to send the first successful copy of the vase to his friend, Erasmus Darwin, and by May 1790 Josiah had already received twenty subscriptions for his First Edition Portland Vase.

The vase proved to be such an accurate copy that when the original Barberini Vase was accidentally smashed into pieces whilst on display at the British Museum, it was Josiah’s Jasperware copy which was used to help piece the cameo glass vase back together.

Unveiled at the London showroom

In a private showing at the house of Sir Joseph Banks (president of the Royal Society) in 1790, the First Edition Portland Vase was unveiled. This private exhibition proved so popular that visitor numbers had to be restricted by only printing 1,900 tickets before it was shown to the public at the Greek Street, Soho store.

Following the exhibition, Josiah Wedgwood I declared: “My great work is the Portland Vase”.

The Portland Vase enters Web3

In 2023, 300 Portland Vase NFTs were commissioned featuring colour and material combinations that wouldn’t be achievable in physical Jasperware.

As well as collectable NFTs, contemporary digital artist Krista Kim reimagined the Portland Vase in an original artwork called Chromatic Reflections, which was first unveiled at the Hintze Sculpture Gallery at the Wedgwood in Web3 event.