Putting It Together

London, The Arts, World


This terracotta figure, crafted by the Nok people, West Africa’s earliest known civilisation, and unearthed in Nigeria, miraculously survived intact for over 2,630 years but was shattered beyond repair after photographers for New York’s Art + Auction magazine allowed it to slip through their fingers while moving it to set up a shot.

It’s not an incident without precedent. The Portland Vase is a Roman cameo glass vase, currently dated to between AD 5 and AD 25, which inspired many glass and porcelain makers from the beginning of the 18th century. Since 1810 the vase has been kept almost continuously in the British Museum in London. In 1845 a drunken sailor from Dublin walked into the museum and smashed the glass case holding the vase, which was shattered into over two hundred pieces.

A Museum craftsman restored the vase, but was unable to replace all of the pieces: thirty-seven small fragments were lost for the next 100 years. Advancements in technology created an epoxy resin that showed excellent ageing properties, so restoration was attempted. Reassembly of the vase was made more difficult as the edges of some fragments were found to have been filed down. Nevertheless, all the fragments were found and replaced except for a few tiny splinters. Any areas that were still missing were filled with blue and white-coloured resin.

The Portland Vase still stands in the British Museum, and features in ‘The Victoria Vanishes’.

3 comments on “Putting It Together”

  1. Gretta says:

    Didn’t something happen relatively recently(the past few years or so) where some vase or suchlike was completely munted? I seem to recall stairs or windowsills were involved. Or possibly not.

    That exploded vase is a piece of artwork in itself, I think.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    That’s a curator’s nightmare and rather strange. Usually the handling of artifacts is done only by a museum’s professional staff, wearing gloves, and a collection piece is treated like nitro’s treated in a thriller film. The photographers would never touch the item.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I agree with you, Dan. I was allowed to volunteer with a museum technician for a while and while I handled a number of valuable items it was always under supervision and with protection for the item. You wouldn’t handle it over open space if it could be avoided. Was this sun dried clay that crumbled? or was so brittle it just took a tap to destroy it? I wouldn’t want to be the person who authorised the shoot.

Comments are closed.