To mark the opening of the new Gallery to house The Portland Collection, Danays has chosen to celebrate the Harley family’s most famous purchase: The Portland Vase.  Standing less than ten inches tall, the deep blue Vase with white low-relief frieze is considered the world’s finest complete example of Roman cameo glass and estimated to have been made during the reign of Emperor Augustus, between 27 BC and AD 14.  Purchased by the Duchess of Portland in 1784, it has been on permanent exhibition at the British Museum since 1810.

To create a template for the sculpture installation, the artist enlarged the architectural frieze of the Vase by seven times to find they matched the vertical proportions of The Parthenon frieze.  The resulting super-minimal composition, which strips away the remainder of the Vase’s scene to isolate the arms of the six adult characters, reveals a very contemporary gestural stand-off within the group.

Danays’ Arms of The Portland Vase are not facsimiles.  Her figurative sculpture makes no attempt to be anatomically correct – indeed, these mysterious three-quarter life size stone limbs are anatomical anomalies.

By exaggerating the already remarkable physical proportions of the arms of the original Vase – where complex foreshortening and perspectives achieve animation, form and depth on a gently convex surface – and hand carving them in-the-round as full sculptures, her work celebrates the genius of its anonymous makers and enables a reexamination of the Vase’s secret.

From 25 June to 18 July, artist Sarah Danays will be in the gallery hand carving the remaining two pieces of her installation ‘Arms if the Portland Vase’, visitors are welcome to observe.


Sarah Danays and Dr Susan Walker, former Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology; prior to which Assistant, then Deputy Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, will discuss the exhibition and history of the The Portland Vase on 24 June, as part of our monthly walk and talk programme.  In 2004 Dr Walker published a short book on The Portland Vase, offering the 79th reading of the scenes on the vase, which will be available at The Harley Shop.