Featured Cameo Glass from Reflecting Antiquity

A cameo is an object with two or more layers of different colors; the top layer is partly cut away to fashion decoration in low relief against a background of contrasting color. Most Roman examples are made with two layers, usually white over blue. However, fragments of vessels exist with more than two layers, and sometimes as many as five. Ancient vessels such as the Portland Vase—the most important cameo glass to have survived from ancient Rome—captured the attention of European artisans, especially in England, who manufactured thousands of cameos for consumers both at home and abroad.

  • Artwork
    In 1873, Philip Pargeter, proprietor of the Red House Glass Works, told John Northwood, “I believe I can make the Portland Vase if you can decorate it.” Northwood accepted the challenge, and he spent three years carving his replica. At an advanced stage, the vase cracked as a result of thermal shock. Fortunately, the crack was repaired with an adhesive, and Northwood completed his task. Frederick Carder said he was inspired to work with glass rather than with pottery when he saw Northwood’s reproduction of the Portland Vase.
  • Artwork
    Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795) was a remarkable English potter who introduced many new forms that were frequently based on classical models. In the early 1770s, he began to experiment with jasperware, a fine-grained stoneware that can be stained. This “first edition” copy of the Portland Vase was purchased by Richard Barker, a friend of Wedgwood’s business partner. The fame of the Portland Vase and of Wedgwood’s ceramic replicas helped to establish cameo glass making in England.
  • Artwork
    Joseph Locke was commissioned to make this copy of the Portland Vase for display at the 1878 world’s fair in Paris. He worked on his replica for almost a year, and although it was unfinished at the time of the exposition, it won him a silver medal. He never completed the thinning of the figures on the vase.
  • Artwork
    This five-layered cameo glass tazza is a tour de force of cameo glass carving. The bowl and the pedestal were made separately and then attached with a brass screw. After unwanted glass had been removed by dipping the blank in acid, each of the layers was carved by a team of craftsmen directed by George Woodall. The design for the tazza was inspired by Examples of Chinese Ornament by Owen Jones, published in 1867. Production began in 1886, but the work was not completed until 1889.
  • Artwork
    Emile Gallé, whose father was a glassmaker, set up his own glass factory in 1867. He designed cameo glasses of great originality, often with naturalistic ornament influenced by Japanese decoration. Gallé exhibited at the Paris world’s fairs of 1878, 1889, and 1900.
  • Artwork
    Andromache was the wife of Hector, son of King Priam of Troy. She is seen here framed by columns and an entablature, standing near a lighted brazier. In the distance, a city and a ship on the water are shown, demonstrating Woodall’s extraordinary ability to create a feeling of perspective.