‘Smelling the flowers just quietly’: a Mycenaean krater

I’m learning a lot while exploring the Leeds City Museum’s collection of artefacts donated in 1902 from the British Museum’s excavations at Enkomi and Klavdhia in Cyprus. My favourite at the moment is this Mycenaean krater, a large mixing bowl for wine, decorated on either side with a bull sniffing leaves, which dates to around 1275-1200 BC. It’s been in fragments for some time, but is now newly restored by the Museum’s conservator, Emma Bowron, allowing it to be fully appreciated.

Klavdhia krater fragments s

Krater from Klavdhia, Cyprus, in fragments… © Leeds City Museum

Klavdhia krater restored s

…and restored. © Leeds City Museum

The krater comes from Klavdhia in south-east Cyprus, as noted on its side by the then curator of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s Museum, Henry Crowther. I’m not really a fan of writing the provenance of an object prominently on its surface, but there’s no denying that it helps with identification.

Klavdhia krater label s

Label on Klavdhia krater. © Leeds City Museum

This bears a close relationship to a similar krater from Klavdhia, retained by the British Museum. The authors of Mycenaean Pictorial Vase Painting, Emily Vermeule and Vassos Karageorghis, identify a group of five vases which closely resemble each other stylistically and argue that they are by the same painter; there can be little doubt that the Leeds krater represents a sixth.

BM Klavdhia krater

Krater from Klavdhia in the British Museum (1899,1229.129). © British Museum

The painting is in the ‘Pastoral’ style, which represents something of a deterioration from earlier Mycenaean pictorial painting; the bull is rather impressionistic, with little attempt to be accurate about the anatomical details. Opinion differs on the extent to which Mycenaean pottery was produced on Cyprus or imported, though it seems likely that ‘Pastoral ‘ style pottery such as this was a local production. It’s clear in any case that by the Late Bronze Age, Cypriots were eager consumers of Mycenaean wares, which have been found in high concentrations at coastal sites.

I am irresistibly reminded of Ferdinand, the eponymous bull in Munro Leaf’s story for children, illustrated by Robert Lawson.


The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson. © Grossett & Dunlap

Ferdinand refuses to take part in the bullfight, but instead ‘liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers’ – just as our bull is captured in a quiet moment. In common with much Mycenaean pictorial vase painting, the image on this krater doesn’t suggest narrative development or movement, but has a static, timeless quality which travels well over the intervening centuries, all the way from Bronze Age Cyprus to Leeds.

Latest discoveries

Last week I decided to do some more rummaging through the archives and collections at the Leeds Museums Discovery Centre, in the hope of finding out more about the ancient Cypriot acquisitions made by Henry Crowther, curator of the Museum from the 1890s until the 1920s. I’ve previously blogged about his glass lantern slides which include objects donated by the British Museum from their excavations at Enkomi and Klavdia, and had a feeling that there might be more to be discovered.

I had underestimated quite what an avid collector of lantern slides Henry Crowther was – there must be hundreds, if not thousands. However, I was lucky enough to come across a couple which shed some further light on the Enkomi donation.

Small Enkomi objects s

Lantern slide showing small objects from Enkomi (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries

This slide is labelled ‘Crete’ in Crowther’s writing, which is an unusual slip, as the objects it shows are definitely from Cyprus (an identification helped by the fact that one of them has ‘Enkomi, Cyprus’ written across it). It shows seven objects, including the four spindle whorls from Enkomi still in the collection. But it’s the two objects in the centre and bottom left that interest me.

The list made by the British Museum detailing their donation includes hand-drawn sketches of the objects, as well as descriptions – a practice which is invaluable for helping identification and which I make use of myself, despite my negligible drawing skills. This list includes ‘2 stone beads’, one of which, the biconical example in the centre of the bottom row on the slide, still exists. It’s possible that the object at the bottom left is the other bead, although neither the photo nor the drawing are really clear enough to be sure.

2 stone beads

‘2 stone beads’, from the British Museum list

What is easier to identify is the object in the centre. The list mentions a ‘Bone ornament in the shape of pomegranate’ which doesn’t seem to have survived in the collection (at least, I haven’t found it yet…). But there can be little doubt that it’s the object shown on Henry Crowther’s lantern slide.


Image of pomegranate-shaped ornament (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries


‘Bone ornament in shape of pomegranate’, from the British Museum list

It’s good to know that it did come to Leeds, and to have an image of all the small stone and bone objects from the British Museum’s Enkomi donation together.

In an unrelated discovery, I also came across a manuscript letter from Henry Sandwith, brother of Thomas Sandwith, who managed sales from the latter’s ancient Cypriot collection, displayed at the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, to help relieve famine in Cyprus. It relates to a purchase made by a Mr Robertson, and reads:

Todwick Rectory


Oct 12.

My dear Sir,

Mr Robertson, whose letter I enclose, has suggest a safer means of transport for his pottery. Will you therefore kindly see that the basket, packed as previously suggested, is delivered to the Guard of the Liverpool train for Lime Street Station on Friday next, the 14th, at the time mentioned by him, viz 11am. I have written to him (Mr R) to fix Friday instead of Monday, which will give you more time.

Faithfully yours,

Henry Sandwith

We already know from other correspondence that Mr G. Sinclair Robertson was minded to buy ‘the £5 vase’ from the Sandwith collection, and that he donated ‘a large early Greek pottery vase’ to the Liverpool Museum in 1876, though it’s not now identifiable in the Museum’s collection, and was possibly lost to WWII bombing damage. So this letter doesn’t really give any new information, but does paint a picture of the way in which sales from Sandwith’s collection were managed – a very different world, in which one could arrange for the delivery of baskets of ancient Cypriot pottery via a local train guard.

I have a strong suspicion that there’s more to be found in the archives, and am looking forward to finding out!

The art of the lithographer

Having spent a lot of time lately thinking about reading about writing, it made a pleasant change to get ‘hands on’ with Special Collections at the Leeds University Library and follow up some potentially relevant primary sources. The archives of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society are deposited in Special Collections, along with the Society’s library of printed books and pamphlets dating back to its foundation in the early 19th century. The library includes an offprint of T.B. Sandwith’s paper on ancient Cypriot pottery for the Society of Antiquaries, bound with several other archaeological papers. I’ll admit that I had hopes of an autograph dedication, or perhaps some helpful marginal notes by one of the LP&LS’s members – hopes which were not fulfilled. But it was nevertheless good to see the text in the original hard copy, in particular the amazing illustrations.

Amphora s

White Painted amphora, Archaeologia XLV Pl.XII

Stamnos s

Bichrome stamnos, Archaeologia XLV Pl.XII

It’s probably safe to assume that this copy of the Archaeologia paper was not thumbed over extensively by LP&LS members, since the pages are fresh and the illustrations clear and bright. The skill that has gone into representing the ancient Cypriot artefacts is remarkable, and puts the standard of illustration in some modern archaeological publications to shame.

WP jug s

White Painted jug, Archaeologia XLV Pl.X

BoR jug s

Black on Red jug, Archaeologia XLV Pl.IX

The drawings are particularly effective at capturing the geometric patterns on amphorae and jugs; you can tell that the artist has studied the objects closely and has taken great pains to convey their decoration accurately. Arguably these drawings are less successful at capturing objects whose shapes do not lend themselves to two-dimensional reproduction, but even so, it’s easy to recognise individual pieces from their portraits.

Triple juglet s

Triple juglet, Archaeologia XLV Pl.IX 


Triple juglet (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries

From my limited understanding of the lithographic process, it appears that an artist would have made careful drawings of the objects, which would then have been engraved onto plates, and coloured as part of the printing process. This is where a potential Leeds link comes in. As previously noted, most of the drawings were made from objects included in the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in Leeds. The plates are labelled ‘del. C.H.R.’, an abbreviation for ‘delineauit’, i.e. ‘drawn by’ – so ‘C.H.R.’ made the drawings from which the engraver, named as C.F. Kell, worked. Kell appears to have been part of the firm of ‘Kell Bros.’, prolific ‘chromolithographers’ who did quite a bit of work for the Society of Antiquaries.

So, did the Society of Antiquaries take the trouble and expense to send a skilled draughtsman from London to Leeds to make drawings of the objects on display at the Yorkshire Exhibition? Or was it the work of a local professional? Efforts to discover the answer have not been successful as yet; it’s one of those intriguing footnotes to a research project that will probably remain unresolved.

Process story

Recently, I’ve been spending much of my time on the process of becoming a fully fledged PhD student. I’m learning a lot about how to conduct research at this level, and the skills I’ll need and how to acquire them. I’m also doing a great deal of thinking about the shape of my project and what’s included in its scope. This last semester I’ve been lucky enough to teach some undergraduate archaeology seminars, which has been both hugely enjoyable and a very steep learning curve. I’ve particularly relished the opportunity to draw on some of my own research in class discussions, and hope to do more of this in the future.

As well as this valuable and necessary groundwork, I’m planning to spend some more time on the objects themselves and their histories over the next semester. I’m excited to be involved with a public talk by the University of Leeds’ Museum of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine in January, featuring this horse and rider figurine, and I’m planning a lunchtime talk on the University’s ancient Cypriot collection at the Leeds City Museum, probably in February. More on this soon!




Out and about

Over the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to attend two conferences on the subject of Cyprus – a brilliant way to start the academic year, not least because the train journeys offer an excellent opportunity to get some reading done!

It was good to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum again for ‘Re-approaching Cyprus’ on 23 October, and to listen to a very varied and interesting programme of cutting-edge research on ancient Cyprus. I particularly enjoyed Cyprian Broodbank’s introduction, discussing ‘how Cyprus exemplifies, defies, and weaves in and out of Mediterranean history’. His book The Making of the Middle Sea is next on my reading list. Giorgos Bourogiannis gave a fascinating insight into what happened next to the minor finds from the Swedish Cyprus Expedition at Ayia Irini, and I really enjoyed Daisy Knox’s theories on the uses and functions of the enigmatic Early Bronze Age Cypriot plank figurines. Thomas Kiely from the British Museum talked about a ‘re-excavation’ of the results of early excavations at Salamis, stating that ‘Museums are as fertile as many archaeological sites in terms of what you can discover in collections and archives’, a key idea in my approach to my own work.

I took the opportunity to visit the Fitzwilliam’s A.G. Leventis gallery of Cypriot antiquities, and particularly liked the fantastic bird-snake creatures on this Mycenaean krater.

Mycenaean krater with serpentine birds © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Mycenaean krater with serpentine birds
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The collection includes a Bichrome krater previously belonging to the family of T.B. Sandwith.

Bichrome krater from the collection of T.B. Sandwith © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Bichrome krater from the collection of T.B. Sandwith
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

There was also a large Bichrome barrel jug from the collection of the Rev. Samuel Savage Lewis, Librarian at Corpus Christi College in the late 19th century. Lewis had an extensive antiquarian collection, recently discussed in a blog post by Kate Beats from the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam. We know from the Leeds City Museum’s archive that Lewis made enquiries of the Curator of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society concerning the sale of Sandwith’s ancient Cypriot collection. It’s therefore possible that a few of Sandwith’s objects survive in the Lewis Collection, now at the Fitzwilliam; a potential link that I hope to follow up at some point.

Bichrome barrel jug from the collection of S.S. Lewis © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Bichrome barrel jug from the collection of S.S. Lewis
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

This was followed a week later by a one-day conference on ‘Cyprus: Its Archaeology and Heritage’, organised by the Cyprus Centre at the London Metropolitan University. It attracted a wide range of speakers, providing the opportunity to hear about experimental archaeology, noteworthy Roman visitors to Cypriot sites, and modern artistic responses to Cyprus, among many other subjects. It was great to hear from Amy Smith about the brand new publication Cypriote Antiquities in Reading, including the Ure Museum collection, in the Corpus of Cypriote Antiquities series. Chrissy Partheni talked about the Cypriot collection at National Museums Liverpool, which has made me want to visit at the earliest opportunity. It’s never too early to start planning the next trip!

A brief update

There’s been so much going on lately that I thought it was time for a quick update here. I’ve been using every spare moment to write my Masters dissertation – not easy during the school holidays! It’s on the University of Leeds’ ancient Cypriot collection, and is due at the end of August. Work in progress has been posted on here from time to time, tagged ‘University of Leeds‘. I’ve really enjoyed pulling all my research together, and attempting to produce a catalogue has been very good experience.

I had a great morning a few weeks ago visiting the newly cleaned objects at the Leeds City Museum’s Discovery Centre, and taking their portraits for the dissertation.

Photographing pots at the Discovery Centre

Photographing pots at the Discovery Centre

A few additional glass objects from the collection have recently come to light, in fragments. I took some photos of those too, at the University – rigging up a photography studio on a coffee table!

Glass bowl in sherds

Glass bowl in sherds

Broken unguentarium

Broken unguentarium

I think the small glass bowl, in several large pieces and many tiny fragments, may be too far gone to rescue; but another of the ‘candlestick’ vessels, and a small unguentarium, are really not too badly damaged and could possibly be repaired. I’m having to talk sternly to myself about cost/benefit and available time, at least for the moment.

I’m also beginning to put arrangements in place for my PhD, starting this autumn, which will focus on local ancient Cypriot collections and their reception. I’m thrilled to be funded by the Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC) via the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH), which will enable me to study as part of a supportive cohort, with access to further training and funding opportunities. Much more to follow about this as plans develop.

I’ve been working with colleagues to put together a panel proposal for next year’s Classical Association Conference, on objects and materiality, which would allow me to spend some time thinking about object biographies and the ways in which archaeological objects can convey meaning without secure provenances. This is a fascinating subject, and I’ve only scratched the surface so far. I particularly like the idea of applying methodologies and approaches from other disciplines to the Cypriot objects, and seeing where it takes me.

There are a couple of one-day events on Cyprus coming up, just to add to the excitement!

  • The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is hosting an event titled ‘Re-approaching Cyprus: A day devoted to recent research in Cypriot archaeology and Cypriot collections’, on 23rd October. There’s a great line-up of speakers, and it looks like a really valuable day.
  • The London Metropolitan Museum is also holding a ‘Cyprus Week’ in October, including a conference on the 30th, ‘Cyprus: Its Archaeology and Heritage – Effects on Politics, Identity, Tourism and Education’. I’m planning to attend, to give a very brief overview of my work and to meet people working on Cyprus from across the UK. It’ll be good to have a break from drafting at the laptop!

Ancient and Modern: Picasso, Ramié, and Cypriot ceramics

I’ve managed to get hold of an article I’ve been seeking for a long time – ‘From Cesnola to Picasso’ (2002), by Vassos Karageorghis, in Nyt fra Nationalsmuseet, a publication of the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. I hadn’t realised it was in Danish; but I got there in the end.

The article gives a brief history of the reception of ancient Cypriot art, focusing on the Museum’s collection, which makes me want to visit at the earliest opportunity. The mention of Picasso particularly intrigued me. Karageorghis refers to a 1999 exhibition of Picasso ceramics in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, where he was struck by the resemblance between two jugs by Picasso and an early Bronze Age vase in the Cyprus Museum, Nicosia.

Picasso, Tripod, 1951. © Galerie Madoura www.madoura.com

Picasso, Tripod, 1951.
© Galerie Madoura http://www.madoura.com

Early Cypriot Red Polished composite vessel. © The Cyprus Museum, Nicosia

Early Cypriot Red Polished composite vessel.
© The Cyprus Museum, Nicosia

Karageorghis concludes that “Picasso was often inspired by ancient art, and the fact that Cypriot pottery could have influenced him is tangible evidence of the island’s art’s universal and high aesthetic value.’ It’s easy to see the resemblance that caught Karageorghis’ attention. But it turns out that this piece was inspired by a different ancient Cypriot object; and that it was originally reinterpreted not by Picasso, but by a fellow artist and producer of ceramics, Suzanne Ramié.

Picasso’s major period of ceramic production began around 1946, when he visited Vallauris in the south of France and met Georges and Suzanne Ramié, who invited him to their Madoura workshop. The following summer he began working with them, an association which continued for many years. He worked closely with the team of skilled artisans at the Madoura atelier to produce his ceramic pieces, designing some himself from scratch, but more often using existing patterns already in production, decorating, altering and adding to them to make them work in new ways. Some of these forms were designed by Suzanne Ramié. Trained in the fine arts, her ceramics included practical, traditional wares, and also more fantastic pieces, often with a zoomorphic twist.

Picasso and Suzanne Ramié © Galerie Madoura

Picasso and Suzanne Ramié
© Galerie Madoura

Through her formal studies at the Musée de Sèvres, Ramié had learned about ancient Cypriot pottery, which was a source of inspiration for her own work. It was probably while visiting the Louvre that she came across the Cypriot vessel below, which she re-imagined as a Modernist vase. Its smooth, lustrous white surface, contrasting with the deep blue enamel of the interior, focuses attention on its form, the interpretation of which is left open to the viewer. At 73cm high it is more than twice as tall as the Cypriot original. This is the vase that Picasso in turn reinvented as an anthropomorphic piece. Through an act of metamorphosis, Ramié’s abstract design becomes a woman supporting her face in her hands.

Tripod vase by Suzanne Ramié, 1950 © Les Arts Decoratifs, www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr

Tripod vase by Suzanne Ramié, 1950
© Les Arts Decoratifs, http://www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr

Early Cypriot Red Polished composite vase, from Vounous, in the Musée du Louvre. © 2010 RMN / Franck Raux

Early Cypriot Red Polished composite vase, from Vounous, in the Musée du Louvre.
© 2010 RMN / Franck Raux

Looking beyond this one example, it is clear that ancient Cypriot pottery more generally was an important source for Picasso during his years of ceramic production. For example, art historian and Picasso specialist Harald Theil traces the gesture of Picasso’s ‘Woman with Mantilla’ figurine, as she raises her hand to her neck, to a Cypro-Archaic vase from the Louvre in the shape of a woman.

Cypro-Archaic vessel in the shape of a woman. © Musée du Louvre / A. Reppas

Cypro-Archaic vessel in the shape of a woman.
© Musée du Louvre / A. Reppas

Similarly, Picasso’s ‘Taureau’ (1947) can be linked to a Late Cypriot bull askos, also in the Louvre.

Bull askos from Enkomi, Musée du Louvre © Photo RMN / Franck Raux

Late Cypriot bull askos from Enkomi, Musée du Louvre
© Photo RMN / Franck Raux

As Theil points out, Picasso uses and transforms diverse elements of the Mediterranean ceramic tradition rather than simply reworking individual pieces; but it seems that ancient Cypriot ceramics were very much part of the artistic repertoire on which he drew.

Forms and images from the ancient world more generally were also important to Picasso in his ceramic work, in particular fauns, centaurs, the owl of Athena, and Greek warriors. He even retrieved broken fragments of earthenware from the workshop’s rubbish-heaps, decorating them as mock-archaeological sherds. This reworking of ancient imagery was part of an attempt on Picasso’s part to forge connections with his Mediterranean cultural heritage, and to site his works within the tradition of Mediterranean art and craft.

Ceramics also appealed to Picasso as a democratising art-form, bringing art within the reach of ordinary people. In the early stages, editions of his designs sold for relatively low prices. His intentions have since been frustrated by the enormous value placed on his work in the contemporary art market, which has set his ceramics far beyond the financial reach of most people, though they still generally sell for less than his paintings. This journey, from use to museum object, is mirrored by that of the Cypriot objects which were his inspiration: presumably made for domestic or ritual use, and now objects for viewing in museums or private collections.

Ramié is, of course, much less known than Picasso. But she should be recognised, not just for her role in the creation of this vase of Picasso’s, but also for her own intriguing and beautiful experiments with ancient forms. For example, her zoomorphic flower-holder, with its four small feet, and her double-ended vase, clearly owe a debt of inspiration to ancient askoi.

Zoomorphic flower-holder by Suzanne Ramié © www.drouot.com

Zoomorphic flower-holder by Suzanne Ramié
© http://www.drouot.com

Ceramic vase by Suzanne Ramié © www.bloomberry.eu

Ceramic vase by Suzanne Ramié
© http://www.bloomberry.eu

Like a new production of an ancient play, Ramié’s and Picasso’s interpretations of Cypriot ceramics send the viewer back to the original to think about it in new ways. Ramié’s simplified, almost stylised vase based on the Cypriot tripod vessel, with its uniform glaze, leaves the form open to the viewer’s interpretation, while Picasso’s playfully inventive reworking of her design invites the viewer to share his vision. The classicist Thomas A. Schmitz has said that we become better readers of ancient texts as we think of more questions to ask of them. The same can be said of ancient ceramics, and both Ramié’s and Picasso’s works pose questions as well as stating answers.