The Rubens Vase

Since antiquity, the civilisations around the Mediterranean prized cups, vases and plates carved out of agate as ornamental objects. The Rubens vase is a Byzantine piece carved from a single chunk of chalcedony dating from the decadence of the Roman Empire around 400 CE. The quality suggests it was made in the imperial workshop for the emperor’s household. It has moved around alot since its creation.

It was probably looted by crusaders during the fourth crusade in 1204, when they ‘mistook’ their fellow Christians in the richest city in the western world for enemies and ruthlessly sacked it on their way to carve out fiefs in the Holy Land, an act of barbarity well attested in Eastern histories of the crusades. This marked the true cultural end of both Ancient Greece and the Western Roman empire, and so weakened Byzantium that they paved the way for the conquest of the Turks over the next couple of centuries.

Its European provenance is filled with famous names, such as the Anjou dukes and Charles 5 of France. The Flemish painter Rubens purchased it in 1619, after which it disappeared from view until the 19th century when a hallmark on the gold rim from the French department of Ain was indented. The piece measures 18.6 x 18.5 x 12 cm)= and is now in the Walters Museum. Via EarthStory

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