The Warwick Vase

David Buttery considers the Warwick Vase, its origins, wanderings and greenhouse home.

The facts relating to the discovery, in 1771, of the fragments of the Warwick Vase by the Scottish artist, Gavin Hamilton, at the ruins of Hadrian's Villa near Tivoli, its restoration by order of Sir William Hamilton and its passing into the collection of his nephew, George Greville 2nd Earl of Warwick, are well-known. Viewed as it was as a survival from the classical world, the vase had a great influence on the evolution of English taste. Copies after it and derivations from it appeared throughout the nineteenth century in a variety of materials of which the finest are those in silver by Paul Storr. Two original size bronzes were also cast and may be seen at Cambridge and Windsor. If all of this is familiar, then what is less so, is the manner in which the vase was displayed at Warwick Castle, its home for almost two centuries.

In the years following his succession to the title, in 1773, the 2nd Earl of Warwick began acquiring works of art for his family seat. Whether or not he received the vase as a gift from his uncle, or bought it from him, is uncertain. During the summer of 1776 Hamilton made desperate efforts to persuade the British Museum to purchase it but to no avail and, as he spent a fortnight at Warwick that September, his nephew may have agreed to buy it then. What is certain is that two years later the vase was standing in the courtyard of Warwick Castle.

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