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Rare chance to see 2,000-year-old Italian vases up close

Visitors have a rare chance to see 2,000 year old vases up close Credit: National Trust Images Paul Harris

Visitors have rare chance to see 

  • The six precious vases at Powis Castle and Garden originate from the year 350 BC, pre-dating the Roman empire.
  • The Etruscan vases are seldom moved.
  • Visitors now have a rare, once-in-a-decade chance to see vases at eye level.
  • Conservators will be working on vases in the Gateway Room until 10 October.
  • The vases are ancient Greek in tradition but originate from Italy.


Six Etruscan[1] vases at National Trust Cymru’s Powis Castle and Gardens, Welshpool, are getting a deep dust this week.

Visitors are invited to view the precious ceramics at eye level as they are moved from their usual high position in the library for cleaning. Earlier in the week the team at Powis used 5-metre-high scaffolding towers to carefully take down the vases.

Highly decorative pieces, the painted vases originate from the year 350 BC, pre-dating the Roman empire. The vases are among the oldest items in Powis Castle’s collections, originating from the Etruscan civilisation of ancient Italy and are Greek in tradition. They are brushed annually but rarely moved. A team of conservators will be working to clean and conserve the vases in the castle’s Gateway Room until Tuesday 10 October.

Alex Turrell, Senior Collections & House Officer at Powis Castle and Garden said:

“We are delighted to be able to give visitors a once-in-ten-year chance to have a closer look at the delicate Etruscan vases and watch conservation in action at Powis.

Dusting and cleaning are continual jobs in caring for the collections here but fragile objects such as the vases are cleaned less often. It’s amazing to think that these vases have been successfully preserved for two millennia, and we’re so pleased to be able to share this exciting occasion with visitors.”

Alex Turrell, Senior Collections & House Officer at Powis Castle Credit: National Trust Images Paul Harris

In between cleaning the vases will be lit to give better visibility of the beautiful red-figure vase painting, an important style of Greek vase painting. Featuring scenes of Greek people, culture and mythology, some of the richly painted pieces can be attributed to the Athenian master craftsman known as Rodin966 and others to the ‘Eros and Hare’ painter.

Also being cleaned are three smaller vases of similar design from the Oak Room at Powis Castle.

Each vase takes around 5 hours to be assessed and cleaned by conservators and the Collection and House Team at Powis. A combination of tools are used to remove every speck of dust which is then captured by an adjustable strength vacuum, helping to keep the treasured vases in good condition for everyone, for ever.

Assisting on the conservation work at Powis Castle is Lynne Edge, a specialist ceramics conservator who adds:

“We use specialist brushes with bristles made of soft pony and sable hair along with natural rubber ‘smoke sponges’, to ensure an effective clean whilst being careful of the delicate decoration.

It’s a privilege and honour to handle such beautiful ancient objects. Often impressions of the fingerprints of the original maker can be found, connecting me to the objects past as I work to conserve it for the future.”

The six ceramic pieces were probably acquired in Italy during the Grand Tour of Europe [2] in the 1770s or 1780s by Clive of India, his son Edward, the 2nd Lord Clive or George 2nd Earl of Powis.

Each vase has a different shape and would have been designed for a different use by Etruscan people. For example, the Krater (of which there are two at Powis) would have been used to mix water with wine and others would have been for holding oil, wine and for drinking from.

Powis Castle and Garden Credit: National Trust Images Paul Harris

Powis Castle is home to one of the world’s great collections of art and historical objects with over 13,500 items in its collection. Other items visitors can see when visiting are the Twelve Caesars: These late 17th-century Italian busts are the earliest known surviving set of the Twelve Caesars in Great Britain and can be seen in the Long Gallery. And accompanying the vases in the library is a charming portrait miniature of Sir Edward Herbert by the court artist Isaac Oliver (c.1565–1617), who specialised in such small-scale wonders.

To plan a visit to see the vases in the Gateway Room until Tuesday 10 October check out more information here. From the 11 October they will be back in situ in the library at Powis Castle and can be seen every day between 12noon to 4pm (with last entry 30 minutes before closing) when the castle is open.

[1] Etruscan: The Etruscan people of Etruria, were an ancient civilisation that existed in central Italy before the rise of the Roman Empire between the 8th and 3rd century BCE.
[2] The Grand Tour was an educational tour customary amongst aristocratic young men in the 18th century.