A Cameo Glass Skyphos with Charioteers

This lot has been removed from the website, please contact customer services for more information

Lot 12*
A cameo glass skyphos with charioteers

Sold for £ 215,650 (US$ 298,311) inc. premium


14 Jul 2004, 18:00 BST

London, New Bond Street

3/4 view

A cameo glass skyphos with charioteers
Italy, first half of the 1st Century A.D.
Cast as a blank with a translucent dark blue body and an opaque white overlay, carved, cut, ground and polished, with a slightly outsplayed and rounded rim, the ovoid body curving downwards and inwards, two vertical ring handles attached to the rim, the handle supports with ducks' head terminals, the interior of the bowl with traces of polishing on a lathe and with a horizontal cut line below the rim, the decoration on the exterior carved through the opaque white glass and sometime also slightly into the translucent blue background to create two figured friezes with a continuous ground-line and separated by youthful masks (one with his eyes open and the other with his eyes shut) immediately below the handle; side (a): a curly-haired charioteer wearing a short sleeveless belted tunic and cloak billowing behind him shown driving a two-horse chariot or biga with a seven-spoked wheel and a low curved side decorated with parts of three vertical loops, he is depicted leaning forwards, holding the reins of the biga in his left hand and a raised whip in his right as if urging his horses on, which are shown side by side, racing at full gallop with raised and extended forelegs; side (b): a second curly-haired charioteer wearing only a belted tunic is leaning backwards in his almost identical biga (but with an eight-spoked wheel) pulling in on his reins with both hands as if to stop or slow down his horses which are also shown side by side with raised and extended forelegs, 3¼in. (8.1cm.) restored height, 25/8in. (6.8cm.) rim diam., 4¼in. (10.8cm.) wide across handles, the body repaired with a replacement resin foot, one handle (to the right of side (a)) restored in resin having been modelled from the surviving handle so that both are missing their horizontal finger rests


  • Provenance:
    Ex Constable-Maxwell Collection, London

    Weltkunst 46.20 (15 October 1976), 1877 (illustrated with a replacement foot in metal)
    Goldstein et al. 1982, p.13, p.15, no.12, fig.12
    Sotheby’s 1987, pp.64-7, lot 137
    Engle 1988, pp.9-17, figs.1 & 3
    Painter and Whitehouse 1990b, pp.157-8, no.A12
    Whitehouse 1991, p.25, no.15
    Whitehouse and Painter 1993, pp.9-11, 13
    Christie’s 1997, pp.64-8, lot 226, illus. front and back covers

    The art of cameo engraving on glass developed from the Hellenistic craft of producing cameos by exploiting the natural layering of bands of contrasting colours found in semi-precious stones like onyx and agate. Indeed, it is probable that it was these same gem engravers who decorated the cased glass blanks - it has even been suggested that one of the most famous gem engravers, Dioskourides, who was associated with the Julian family and produced portraits of Julius Caesar, carved the most famous cameo glass vessel - the Portland Vase (Painter and Whitehouse 1990a, pp.124-5). There are several ways in which these glass blanks are believed to have been formed in antiquity through casting, blowing, or a combination of both, for a full discussion cf. Whitehouse and Painter 1993 and Gudenrath and Whitehouse (1990) for a detailed study of the manufacture and repair of the Portland Vase. An alternative, though not widely accepted view, has also been presented by Rosemarie Lierke (1999, pp.67-96) who believes that the opaque white relief decoration was pre-formed in moulds into which the background colour was subsequently blown so reducing the amount of finishing and polishing afterwards.

    In 1982 Goldstein et al. (pp.13-15) listed thirteen more-or-less intact early Roman cameo glass vessels and plaques to which another three have since been added (cf. Painter and Whitehouse 1990b, pp.138-62; Whitehouse 1991, pp.19-20, no.25) all of which, with the exception of a purple and white jug from Besançon, France, were made in translucent blue with an opaque white overlay. Over half of them were found in Italy: the Auldjo Jug in the British Museum, the ‘Blue Vase’, two cameo panels and a dipper in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, were all discovered at Pompeii; four are believed to have been found in Rome: the Portland Vase and its base-disc in the British Museum, the Seasons Vase in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and the ‘Cameo Carpegna’ in the Louvre, whereas a perfume bottle in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence, was found at Torrita di Siena in Tuscany. A second perfume bottle, in the collection of George Ortiz and the only other piece known in private hands, came from Estepa near Sevilla, Spain, while two vessels have Turkish provenances: the ‘Morgan Cup’ in The Corning Museum of Glass, which is believed to have been found at Heraclea Ontica (modern Ere li) on the Black Sea, and the perfume bottle from Eski ehir, formerly in the Kofler-Truniger Collection and now in the J. Paul Getty Museum. It is only this charioteer skyphos and its nearest parallel decorated with scenes from the story of Ariadne and Dionysos (also in the J. Paul Getty Museum) that have no known find-place, although the latter is said to be one of two cameo vessels found in a Parthian tomb in Iran (Glass of the Caesars 1987, pp.68-9, no.13; Painter and Whitehouse 1990, pp.143-4, no.A4).

    The skyphos was a popular shape in contemporary silver as demonstrated by an example from the Boscoreale Treasure decorated with leaves (Baratte 1986, p.22, p.53, p.91) and four with more erotic scenes from the ‘Casa del Menandro’ at Pompeii (Stefanelli 1991, pp.266-7, nos.65-8, figs.122-31), all of which were buried during the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Only two more-or-less complete examples are known in cameo glass: this example and the aforementioned piece in the J. Paul Getty Museum. There are also a small number of fragments known, identified by their distinctive handles (cf. Whitehouse 1997, pp.54-5, nos.53-4 for two examples in The Corning Museum of Glass).

    The charioteering scene on this skyphos, however, is more unusual. The nearest parallel is a fragment from the upper part of a handled cup formerly in the Sangiorgi Collection and now in The Corning Museum of Glass that depicts part of a youthful charioteer with long, flowing hair and dressed in a long sleeved tunic and billowing cloak, grasping a whip (ibid. p.55, no.55). For another cameo glass fragment, on which the charioteer is a child (possibly Cupid) cf. Greau Collection 1903, p.81, no.563, pl.58. There is also a body fragment from Cologne that just has a chariot wheel (Naumann-Steckner 1989, pp.74-5, no.2, fig.2) and a fragment in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which shows part of a chariot rising up out of water, identified as having come from a plaque depicting Aphrodite rising from the sea (Goldstein et al. 1982, p.102, no.13, fig. on p.26).

    Most cameo vessels and plaques, have Dionysaic scenes, so it has been suggested that this piece shows a race during Dionysiac games (ibid. p.13) rather than a more formal race in a stadium like the Circus Maximus in Rome which is depicted on a large group of mould-blown vessels with scenes of four four-horsed chariots racing (Glass of the Caesars 1987, p.168, no.89; Sennequier et al. 1998, pp.24-47). Painter and Whitehouse (1991, p.158) have postulated that the frieze on this cup is taken from the funeral games in honour of Patroclus as described by Homer in The Iliad 23. The first event of these games was a chariot race involving five contestants: Eumelus, Diomeddes, Manelaus, Antilochus and Meriones. At a crucial point in the race as they approached a narrow gully Manelaus had to rein in his horses and let the young, hot-headed Antilochus pass him, in order to avoid a crash. Therefore, the figure on Side (a) may be seen as Antilochus and that on Side (b) as Manelaus. It has also been more fancifully suggested by Anita Engle (1988, pp.15-17) that this cup might have been commissioned by the Emperor Nero. It cannot be disputed, however, that this was a rare and costly vessel, a treasured possession only available to the uppermost levels of imperial Roman society.
A Cameo Glass Skyphos with Charioteers
A Cameo Glass Skyphos with Charioteers
A Cameo Glass Skyphos with Charioteers
A Cameo Glass Skyphos with Charioteers
A Cameo Glass Skyphos with Charioteers
A Cameo Glass Skyphos with Charioteers
A Cameo Glass Skyphos with Charioteers
Auction information

This sale is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future sales, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this sale, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories, buyer's premium excluding Cars, Motorbikes, Wine, Whisky and Coin & Medal sales, will be as follows:

Buyer's Premium Rates
27.5% on the first £10,000 of the hammer price;
25% of the hammer price of amounts in excess of £10,000 up to and including £450,000;
20% of the hammer price of amounts in excess of £450,000 up to and including £4,500,000;
and 14.5% of the hammer price of any amounts in excess of £4,500,000.

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

For payment information please refer to the sale catalog.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Lot symbols
* Import low rate

VAT on imported items at a preferential rate of 5% on Hammer Price and the prevailing rate on Buyer's Premium.