Amathus in Nottingham

As well as Leeds (if my theory is correct – see previous post), the British Museum sent objects from its excavations at Amathus to a number of other museums, public schools and colleges in 1895. According to a minute by A.S. Murray, these were:

Over the last few months I’ve been trying to track down these Amathus donations, with help from the organisations’ curators, who have been very generous in taking the time and trouble to further my research. I’d love to visit more of the collections in person (in particular, Dublin and Manchester are high on my list), but I was lucky enough to have a day trip to Nottingham last month to see the Amathus collection, kindly hosted by Rebecca Arnott, Collections and Access Officer.

First I made a visit to the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, impressively situated overlooking the city, and set in beautiful gardens – well worth climbing all the steps!

Nottingham Castle Museum

Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

I really enjoyed the Ancient Greek gallery, which was both fun and educational and got the maximum value from the Ancient Greek objects on display. But my favourite was the  ‘Every Object Tells a Story’ gallery, an inspiring ‘celebration of decorative art objects’ examining the stories behind them. This has much in common with my approach to the ancient Cypriot collections in Leeds. I loved the juxtaposition between a beautiful vase made by potter Magdelene Odundo, and three ancient Cypriot juglets and a figurine, which encourages new ways of looking at both the modern and the ancient objects, given more resonance by being displayed together.

Display of ancient and modern ceramics © Nottingham Castle Museum

Display of ancient and modern ceramics
© Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

But the main purpose of my visit was to go ‘behind the scenes’ and look at the objects from Amathus, which are not currently on display. My aim was to see if there was any correspondence between these and the objects in the Leeds University collection, which would tend to support the theory that they were originally from the same source.

There certainly were a few parallels. For example, both collections include small juglets of Black on Red ware, with neck-ridge and decorated with black bands on glossy red slip.

NCM 1895-23 Black on Red juglet © Nottingham Castle Museum

NCM 1895-23
Black on Red juglet
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

UNIV.1913.0011 Black on Red Juglet © University of Leeds

Black on Red Juglet
© University of Leeds

They also both have pilgrim flasks, of similar shapes and sizes:

NCM 1895-36 Pilgrim flask © Nottingham Castle Museum

NCM 1895-36
Pilgrim flask
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

UNIV.1913.0001 Pilgrim flask © University of Leeds

Pilgrim flask
© University of Leeds

This isn’t particularly surprising; both of these are very common types of objects, and probably feature in many collections of ancient Cypriot artefacts. One object I found more intriguing was this fairly crude clay bottle:

NCM 1895-39 Bottle of red clay © Nottingham Castle Museum

NCM 1895-39
Cylindrical bottle
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

UNIV.1913.0016 Bottle of red clay © University of Leeds

Cylindrical bottle
© University of Leeds

As the photos show, it’s not dissimilar to a bottle/jar in the Leeds collection, with a narrow foot, small, flat handles, and deeply incised scores at the neck. The Nottingham example is currently in several pieces; the neck (not shown) has roughly the same dimensions, and the same slight flare, as the Leeds bottle’s neck. I haven’t yet managed to identify the Leeds bottle; it’s not a typically Cypriot shape, and may well be an import. The presence of similar ceramics, slightly outside the mainstream, in the two collections may perhaps indicate that they come from the same source; or it could equally well be coincidence!

I really enjoyed my time in Nottingham and am looking forward to going back again – not least to further explore the Museum and Art Gallery, and quite possibly the café. My thanks to Rebecca for arranging my visit, and to all the other curators who have helped with this project.

Where did it come from? Part II: An Amathus connection?

As previously mentioned, the Leeds University ancient Cypriot collection came to light in the University’s cellars in 1913, where Lady Bodington supposed it had been overlooked since her husband, Sir Nathan Bodington, ordered it for a University fundraising event.

This may well have been the case; but there’s an alternative explanation, which might also help to account for another mysteriously overlooked collection. The British Museum sponsored excavations at Amathus in Cyprus in 1893-94, led by J.L. Myres and A.H. Smith. In 1895 the Trustees agreed to a proposal from A.S. Murray, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, to donate objects from these excavations to a range of museums, colleges and universities around the country. These included the Yorkshire College, Leeds, of which Nathan Bodington was the Principal. A letter from Nathan Bodington accepting the offer on behalf of the College survives in the British Museum’s archives.

The trail then goes cold; there is no record of the collection arriving in Leeds, or trace of it in the College’s annual record, although this generally gives full details of all donations. The Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society was often used by the Yorkshire College’s students, but again, the Society’s annual report makes no mention of any donation. This contrasts with the treatment of a further gift of Cypriot antiquities from the British Museum in 1902 to the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, which is written up in full in that year’s annual report.

Given this silence in the official records, it seems at least possible that the University’s collection is this same donation from the British Museum’s excavations in Amathus. There’s no way of knowing for sure; but there are a few factors which tie in with this theory. The collection covers the right timescale, from the Cypro-Geometric to the Roman period. Also, some of the pottery is decorated in a style typical of Amathus, with freely applied red and brown stripes and circles on a background of buff slip.

UNIV.1913.0013 Bowl with decoration typical of Amathus © University of Leeds

Bowl with decoration typical of Amathus
© University of Leeds

There are also some parallels between surviving objects in the University of Leeds collection, and those of other museums and colleges who were sent donations from Amathus by the British Museum in 1895. That said, there are plenty of objects in those collections which aren’t reflected in the surviving University collection; for example, there are no figurines. However, Lady Bodington intended to give part of the collection to the Leeds Girls’ High School, and this may well have filled in some of the gaps.

The British Museum possesses Myres’ notebooks from his excavations in Amathus, which provide brief records of tomb contents, and illustrations of unusual pieces. These raise a number of tantalising possibilities; could the University of Leeds jug marked 292 be one of the ’2 small painted jugs’ recorded by Myres in the tomb of that number?

UNIV.1913.0002 Jug marked '292' © University of Leeds

Jug marked ’292′
© University of Leeds

And could the unusual Punic one-handled jug, probably an import from Carthage, be the ‘jug of red clay’ illustrated by Myres from Tomb 291?

UNIV.1913.0033 Punic jug © University of Leeds

Punic jug
© University of Leeds

Myres notesbook, Tomb 291 - '1 jug of red clay' © British Museum

Myres notesbook, Tomb 291 – ’1 jug of red clay’
© British Museum

On the face of it, it seems unlikely; the British Museum donated duplicates, i.e. common items, to other institutions, rather than anything out of the ordinary; but there is certainly a similarity between the shape of the Leeds jug and Myres’ sketch.

Whether or not this collection originated from Amathus, it merits research and a higher profile, not least to honour Nathan Bodington’s contribution to the study of the ancient world in Leeds, which prompted Lady Bodington’s donation. Just over a century after its rediscovery, the collection is entering a new phase of its existence with new opportunities to ‘encourage a taste for archaeology’, in line with her wishes.

Expert advice

One of the things I’m really enjoying about this Ignite project, funded by the Creative and Cultural Industries Exchange at the University of Leeds, is the opportunity to work with people and organisations with similar interests, to share what I’m doing and get the benefit of their advice on the best ways to explore and present the University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection.

A couple of weeks ago, Thomas Kiely, Curator of ancient Cyprus at the British Museum, kindly came up to Leeds to consult on the collection and allow me to test my theories on dates, shapes and styles. We had a great day working through the 24 pieces, in the refined surroundings of the Brotherton Room in the University’s Brotherton Library.

The Brotherton Room, University of Leeds ©

The Brotherton Room, University of Leeds

It was really helpful to get an expert opinion on a number of issues which had been perplexing me. Not least, the elegant juglet I mentioned before – which looks a great deal like stroke-polished Plain White pottery from the Hellenistic period.

Lekythos © University of Leeds

© University of Leeds

Hellenistic lekythos

Plain White Hellenistic lekythos
© SCE IV/3

Thomas pointed out various aspects of the objects I hadn’t noticed before, including the string-cut marks on some of the bases showing where they had been cut off the potter’s wheel.

Base of Bichrome bowl © University of Leeds

Base of Bichrome bowl
© University of Leeds

I’m now keen to do ‘table talks’ on the objects to share their unique characteristics with anyone who’d like to find out more about the collection. Hopefully this will be something I can pursue at a later stage of the project.

Where did it come from? Part I: The Case in the Cellar

Why does the University of Leeds have an ancient Cypriot collection? The answer involves some detective work, and hinges on the interests and networks of Sir Nathan Bodington, first Vice-Chancellor of the University. This part of the story begins just over a century ago, in October 1913.

Portrait of Sir Nathan Bodington by Arthur Hacker © University of Leeds Art Collection

Portrait of Sir Nathan Bodington by Arthur Hacker
© University of Leeds Art Collection

The University of Leeds’ archives record a visit made by the second Vice-Chancellor, Michael Sadler, to Lady Eliza Bodington, widow of Sir Nathan Bodington who had died in 1911, two years before. They enjoyed a gossip about University matters, and Lady Eliza raised the subject of ‘a very interesting collection of early pottery from Cyprus’. She explained how they came to Leeds:

“They were apparently ordered by Sir Nathan Bodington from a friend in Cyprus for the great University bazaar. They arrived late. The case was put in the cellar of the University and overlooked.”

Lady Eliza wanted to give part of the collection to the ‘Classical Department’, and the rest to the Leeds Girls’ High School. Her hope was that ‘they may be the beginning of a Classical Collection’ and ‘might encourage a taste for archaeology in which my husband was so interested’.

Letter from Eliza Bodington to Michael Sadler © University of Leeds

Letter from Eliza Bodington to Michael Sadler
© University of Leeds

The help was enlisted of Mr A. M. Woodward, newly appointed Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Leeds. He produced a list of the collection, 35 items in all, along with valuations (presumably for insurance purposes) ranging from 4/6 to 110/-. This list includes 19 ceramics, two figurines, one alabastron, seven pieces of glass, two of bronze, and four knucklebones, ‘well preserved’. His descriptions are rather broad, but the objects still remaining in the University’s collection can be mapped to his list with a fair degree of confidence. The remaining 11 items – some of the ceramics and glass, the figurines and those knucklebones – were presumably donated to the Leeds Girls’ High School in accordance with Lady Bodington’s wishes, although the school’s archivist has not found any trace of this donation.

Three of the ceramics were given to Mr Woodward in fragments, which he repaired and gave to be displayed and insured with the rest of the collection. He appears to have been very versatile as a classicist, publishing on archaeology, epigraphy, and numismatics, and ranging across the Peloponnese, Attica, and Asia Minor, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he was able to turn his hand to a competent repair of ancient Cypriot pottery, which has survived well to this day.

Bichrome dish repaired by A.M. Woodward © University of Leeds

Bichrome dish repaired by A.M. Woodward
© University of Leeds

Sir Nathan Bodington’s role in connection with these artefacts is entirely in line with his lifelong interest in the ancient world. He went to Oxford as an Exhibitioner in Greek, and took a First in Literae Humaniores, and, as a friend put it, ‘he remained to the last a true lover of the classics, and especially of Greece and its art.’ He was a member of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society for 25 years, and its its President from 1898-1900. He addressed the Society on subjects including ‘The Mycenaean Age in Crete’ and ‘The Story of Lanuvium’, and was instrumental in obtaining ancient artefacts for its Museum, including part of the Savile Collection of Antiquities from Lanuvium, still to be seen in the Leeds City Museum today.

Lanuvium marbles © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Lanuvium marbles
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

His interest in antiquity extended beyond the Society’s business; the Leeds Mercury for Saturday November 8th 1890 records him chairing a talk on the Parthenon Marbles at the Yorkshire College by the famous Classical scholar Jane E. Harrison, and also draws attention to his article in that month’s Macmillan’s Magazine on ancient Ventimiglia.  After his marriage in 1907, the couple toured extensively in the Mediterranean, often visiting ancient sites. In 1908 they spent two weeks on an archaeological dig at the Cawthorn Roman camps, and appear to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves:

“he was intensely happy living this simple life, and a junior member of the staff… discovered to [his] surprise that the holder of the dignified office of Vice-Chancellor could revel in a picnic holiday with a keen sense of humour and making light of all difficulties.”

(W.H. Draper, Sir Nathan Bodington: A Memoir).

Bodington himself collected a few ancient artefacts in Cyprus, which Eliza Bodington donated to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1913, after his death. Given this lifelong interest in the ancient world, it’s highly plausible that Nathan Bodington would have the contacts and interest to obtain an ancient Cypriot collection. His biographer emphasises the huge workload he laboured under, making it not implausible that a small collection like this, perhaps not seen as particularly valuable or significant, could have been overlooked on its arrival in Leeds.

However, I am not wholly convinced by the story of the ‘Grand University Bazaar’ as the reason for the objects’ purchase. Delving in the University’s archives has as yet failed to identify this Bazaar, although it might well be one ‘held under the auspices of the Student’s Athletics Union’ in May 1895, which raised the significant sum of £1,810 for athletics premises and equipment. It’s important to bear in mind that Nathan Bodington had died two years before the case in the cellar came to light, so no-one knew for sure what his intentions had been.

I think there’s another explanation for the University of Leeds collection, one which accounts for another set of mysteriously missing artefacts, and helps make sense of the dates, styles and markings of the objects which survive. More on this next time!

What’s in the collection?

I’m really enjoying researching the University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection, putting into practice the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from working with the Cypriot artefacts at the Leeds City Museum. At the moment, I’m focusing on identifying individual objects and trying to put them into context.

The collection consists of 24 objects: 18 ceramics, four glass and two bronze (no stone or precious metals). So far they appear to date from the later end of the Cypro-Geometric period, through the Cypro-Archaic and Cypro-Classical and down to the Hellenistic period, covering the span between 900 BC – 50 BC. This may prove to be interesting in terms of their provenance, if they are to be thought of as a group rather than a haphazard selection of objects (more on this another time). Many of them have suffered some damage on their travels, but are currently more or less complete pieces, thanks in part to some restoration work around a century ago.

The bronze objects are mirrors, and the glass comes under the heading of ‘unguentaria’, i.e. containers for perfumed oils. The ceramics consist of vessels in a range of forms, mainly jugs in a wide variety of shapes, ranging from 65mm to 200mm high. There are also a number of plates/dishes and bowls, and a pilgrim flask. The degree of decoration varies; some are decorated with paint in reds and browns (Bichrome ware), while others are plain. Several of the objects, including the pilgrim flask and the Black-on-Red ware juglet below, show Phoenician influence, which again may be significant in thinking about their provenance.

Black-on-Red juglet © University of Leeds

Black-on-Red juglet, late Cypro-Geometric – early Cypro-Archaic
© University of Leeds

I’m making some progress on finding comparators in other museum collections, and locating exemplars in the multi-volume Swedish Cyprus Expedition reports, which I’m extremely grateful to the Leeds University Library for purchasing many years ago.

Swedish Cyprus Expedition reports in the Leeds University Library

Swedish Cyprus Expedition reports in the Leeds University Library

Some, however, are a mystery at present, including this plain, elegant lekythos, which doesn’t look quite like anything I’ve seen before. I know its double is out there somewhere, it’s just a matter of tracking it down!

Lekythos © University of Leeds

© University of Leeds

So it’s a collection with some interesting consistencies: from a limited chronological period; with Phoenician elements; and mainly vessels, no figurines, sculpture or jewellery. The aim is to identify and properly describe each of the objects; then the next step is to look into how they came to Leeds, and the people behind their journey.

The University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection

Recently I’ve secured some funding through the Cultural and Creative Industries Exchange at the University of Leeds, for a small project on the Department of Classics‘ collection of ancient Cypriot artefacts. This consists of 24 objects, not currently on display, including ceramics, glass and bronze. I’m delighted to be spending some time on this interesting and unpublished collection, and will be blogging about it over the next few months.

Bronze mirror © University of Leeds

Bronze mirror from Cyprus
© University of Leeds

I’ll be working with Leeds Museums and Galleries and the British Museum to explore the collection, starting by examining each object and trying to ‘place’ it in stylistic and chronological terms. The collection is in need of some conservation attention, so I’ll be trying to find a source of funding for that. I’ll also be looking into the more recent collection history; as ever, this is something I find fascinating. My work so far suggests that there are stories to be uncovered behind this group of objects and their route to Leeds, involving the shared history of University and Museum in the late 19th/early 20th century. More to follow!

Ancient Cypriot art at the Neues Museum, Berlin

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the ancient Cyprus gallery at the Neues Museum in Berlin. It’s a varied and interesting collection, with some truly outstanding individual pieces. It was largely brought together by Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, a near-contemporary of T.B. Sandwith in the early stages of archaeological exploration on Cyprus.

The building itself is architecturally interesting; built in the mid 19th century, it was badly damaged in the Second World War and has only recently been reopened, in 2009, after extensive reconstruction. Parts of the interior, including the Cyprus gallery, still have a semi-dilapidated feel to the decor; there’s an arresting juxtaposition between the antique feel of the modern building, and the vividness and freshness of the ancient Cypriot art.

Ancient Cyprus gallery, Neues Museum, Berlin

Ancient Cyprus gallery, Neues Museum, Berlin

The display itself is rather minimal in terms of exposition, with only the briefest information given on object labels, but fortunately the wonderful MAM Bookshop had been able to provide me with an English copy of the very full and well-illustrated catalogue of the Berlin collection.

Among my favourite objects was this Bichrome jug, where the exuberant design is carefully fitted to the curve of the pot. There’s nothing of this style in the Leeds collection, unfortunately; to me, they are among the most appealing and intriguing pieces of ancient Cypriot art.


Bichrome jug
© Neues Museum, Berlin

I was also pleased to see some Base Ring juglets, always a favourite of mine, with snaky elements in the design.


Base Ring juglets
© Neues Museum, Berlin

Possibly the most charming piece is this wonderful Red Polished jug/animal hybrid, originating from L.P. di Cesnola’s collection, with its four short legs, looping handle and spout ending in a flared rim; reminiscent of something from Oliver Postgate‘s imagination.


Zoomorphic vase of Red Polished ware
© Neues Museum, Berlin

One object which intrigued me was this Base Ring single-handled lentoid flask, with a pinched seam  and decoration of multiple crossed lines of white paint. There’s a very similar flask in the Leeds City Museum collection, with an unusually good provenance; it comes from Klavdia, part of a 1902 donation from the British Museum from its 1899 excavations.  It would be interesting to know more about this flask, especially its provenance, but it doesn’t appear in the catalogue, and the label was not informative; I’m currently trying to track down a bit more information. [Update: the very helpful team at the Neues Museum inform me that the flask was part of Ohnefalsch-Richter's collection, and the exact findspot is unknown. Ohnefalsch-Richter excavated widely in Cyprus and also bought extensively from dealers on the island, making it difficult to draw any conclusions about where this flask might be from.]


Base Ring lentoid flask
© Neues Museum, Berlin


Base Ring lentoid flask, from Klavdia, Cyprus
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

It was great to see such a well-preserved and varied collection, and so much better than just reading the catalogue; there’s nothing like the experience of seeing the objects in real life. And of course the Neues Museum has the advantage of being situated on the city’s Museum Island, within easy walking distance of the Altes Museum and Pergamon Museum – what better way to spend a day’s holiday?