Art: Good Glue

On a quiet afternoon 104 years ago, browsers in the British Museum were "attracted from their agreeable pursuit," as the London Times reported, "by hearing a loud crash, and on hastening to ascertain the cause they found that which was the 'admired of all admirers' . . . scattered in fragments."

The admired object was the Portland Vase, a ten-inch-high urn of deep blue glass, decorated with white cameo figures of Peleus and Thetis. According to common, if unproved, legend, it was supposed to have come from the sarcophagus of the 3rd Century Roman Emperor Alexander Severus and to have once contained...

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