The Portland Vase: Mania and Muse Is on View at the Crocker Art Museum

The Portland Vase: Mania and Muse delves into the fascinating journey of how a single Classical vase rose to legendary status, shaping and influencing art and commerce across time and space. With a showcase of more than 60 artworks, this exhibition not only explores the influence of brands on our culture but also questions why Classical traditions continue to dominate the artistic landscape and how these traditions can be re-evaluated and disrupted.

As an object, the Portland Vase — discovered in 1582 and currently housed in the British Museum — is significant as a modern-day “influencer” with global reach. Its vandalism and subsequent restoration in 1845 enhanced its reputation, kicking off a mania that lingers to the present day. From Josiah Wedgwood’s limited-edition 18th-century copies to contemporary riffs found on social media, the Portland Vase has inspired countless modern commercial replicas produced in many shapes, sizes, and materials, and it has even served as a plot device in films and musicals.

The Portland Vase’s provenance, enigmatic carvings, destruction and reconstruction, symbolism of perfection and imperialism, and enduring fame all provide fertile ground for artistic exploration. Collectively, the artists in the exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum convey that the Portland Vase is not only a treasured relic of the past, but an object to inspire new objects and thus a means to expand their artistic boundaries, challenge colonial histories, and grapple with complex histories of making.

The Portland Vase: Mania and Muse is on view through September 8 at the Crocker Art Museum in downtown Sacramento, California.

To plan your visit and learn more, visit

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