Links to Liverpool

Recently I visited the amazing ancient Cypriot collections belonging to the World Museum, Liverpool, thanks to the Curator of Classical Antiquities, Dr Chrissy Partheni. At present there is no specific gallery for ancient Cypriot objects, but visitors are greeted in the entrance hall by a display case under the banner of ‘Hidden Treasures of Liverpool’. This features a fish-shaped vessel, a oenochoe decorated in Free Field style with a fantastical bird, and a particularly beautiful Black on Red oenochoe, alongside some historic photographs from the Kouklia excavations carried out in the 1950s by J.H. Iliffe, then director of the Liverpool City Museum, and the archaeologist T.B. Mitford from the University of St Andrews.

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Display case of Cypriot material © World Museum Liverpool

I also really liked this vitrine in the brilliant Weston Discovery Centre, where visitors can get hands-on with parts of the Museum’s collections.

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Object history in the Weston Discovery Centre © World Museum Liverpool

It charts one jug’s journey from Cyprus to the museum, quietly challenging some of the prevailing narratives about colonial collecting, and hinting at the wealth of stories behind any museum collection.

Chrissy was kind enough to give me a tour of the stores, where I very much enjoyed seeing more of the wonderful and wide-ranging collections. I had a further purpose for my visit: my latest research into the destinations of Thomas Backhouse Sandwith‘s collection allowed me to join the dots and identify a few objects still in Liverpool which came from this source.

When Sandwith started sending ancient Cypriot objects to the UK in 1869, some were sold at Mrs Parkin’s Glass and China Saloon in Sheffield. I’ve also come across evidence that they were sold in Liverpool ‘at the shop of Mr Stonier, glass and earthenware dealer’, in the form of a newspaper article from the Liverpool Daily Post of 13 August 1870. This states that the objects were placed on sale by Henry Sandwith, T.B. Sandwith’s brother and ‘clergyman of the Church of England’, but the article bears every sign of having been written by John Holmes, who played a major role in disseminating Sandwith’s collection – not least the rather awkwardly shoehorned-in reference to Romans 9.21 (‘Hath not the potter power over the clay’). The article concludes:

“The Rev. Dr. Hume, Mr. J. A. Picton, and other antiquaries of the town… have made a selection of some of the rarest and most illustrative of the types, in the hope that the committee of the public museum will purchase them’.

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Liverpool Daily Post, 13 August 1870

This hope seems to have been fulfilled, as the 1870 Annual Report of the Free Public Library, Museum and Schools of the Borough of Liverpool records the purchase of ‘Ten specimens of Graeco-Phoenician Pottery and Glass found at Cyprus’. These turn out to have been accessioned at the Liverpool Museum under the name of Stonier, which makes sense as he was the immediate vendor, and this explains how the Sandwith connection was obscured.

We were able to see seven of these objects; a beautiful Bichrome amphora, oenochoe, and barrel jug; three pieces of glass, including a ‘candlestick’ vessel of the type which confused John Holmes; and a Red Polished spouted bowl. It’s easy to see why the ‘antiquaries’ selected these for the Museum, and they may give some idea of the rest of Sandwith’s collection put up for sale in Liverpool. I would guess that the Red Polished bowl falls into the category of ‘rarest’, and the others into ‘most illustrative’, but it’s difficult to be sure.

 

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Bichrome amphora with early display label © World Museum Liverpool

The Rev. Dr. Hume mentioned in the article is probably Abraham Hume (1814–1884) (on the right in the portrait below), joint founder of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire alongside Joseph Mayer, whose extensive collections formed the basis of the Liverpool Museum, and Henry C. Pidgeon. He was also secretary to the British Association at Liverpool in 1870, and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

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Portrait of the three founders of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire      © The British Museum (1943,0410.2094)

J.A. Picton was an architect and antiquarian who was instrumental in bringing a free public library to Liverpool. They were typical of the educated men, with a broad interest in the ancient past, who were in the first wave of encountering the ancient Cypriot objects that Sandwith caused to be imported. They certainly chose well on behalf of the Liverpool Museum.

Following up another piece of unfinished business, we also tried to track down the ‘large £5 vase’ purchased from Sandwith’s collection by G. Sinclair Robertson. The itinerary of this vase has become obscured over time, not least due to the damage incurred by the Liverpool Museum during WWII. While it’s not possible to be certain, this large amphora may perhaps be the one in question; it’s certainly similar in size to the large amphora that William Aldam purchased, also for £5, from Sandwith’s collection.

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White Painted amphora, © World Museum Liverpool

The Liverpool ancient Cypriot collection has a fascinating set of histories behind it, not least relating to the excavations at Kouklia. It was great to be able to link a small part of the collection to Sandwith’s activities in the 1860s-1870s, and find further evidence of how far his collection has travelled.

Recovering the image on a Mycenaean sherd

Thanks to a Twitter recommendation, I recently came across a fabulous online tool, retroReveal.org, hosted by the University of Utah. In its own words, it ‘provides documentation and web based image processing algorithms designed to help people discover hidden content.’ This technology has a whole host of uses, including the revelation of palimpsests in manuscripts; and it immediately made me think of a Mycenaean sherd in the Leeds City Museum’s ancient Cypriot collection.

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Sherd of Mycenaean krater © Leeds Museums and Galleries

I’ve written about this sherd before, when some experimentation with Photoshop marginally improved the appearance of the picture painted on it. Unlike most Mycenaean pottery, which has scenes in brown or reddish paint on a pale yellow-buff slip, this has an image in dark orange on a greyish ground. Presumably this was caused by some kind of error in firing, unless it’s due to later damage; I haven’t yet found a parallel for a Mycenaean vessel with this appearance. It’s likely that it came to Leeds from the British Museum’s excavations at Enkomi.

Running this photo through retroReveal’s processes resulted in many different views, one of which was really impressive in clarifying the image:

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Sherd of Mycenaean krater © Leeds Museums and Galleries

It’s plain to see that we have a scene with a chariot and a figure following it. It’s not clear what’s going on in the chariot itself, probably due to damage to the sherd; this alternative image really brings out the weathered surface.

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Sherd of Mycenaean krater © Leeds Museums and Galleries

The clearer image makes it possible to explore its place in the typology of chariot scenes on Mycenaean kraters.

Chariot typology

Arne Furumark, The Mycenaean Pottery: Analysis and Classification, Figs. 39 and 40

The chariot box and wing perch on top of the wheel, with no attempt to show them through the gaps between the spokes; in this respect, perhaps it is most similar to no. 20 in Furumark’s typology, especially given the neatly hatched double edging, though the wheel itself seems to be less detailed. As Furumark demonstrates, a range of filling decorations can be found, but this elaborate scheme of dots within circles, almost like leopard-print, seems rather unusual.

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Arne Furumark, The Mycenaean Pottery: Analysis and Classification, Fig. 74

There isn’t enough of the scene to indicate what kind of chariot procession is shown, but the presence of a figure who is following and facing the chariot narrows it down to type e, f, g, or i.

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Arne Furumark, The Mycenaean Pottery: Analysis and Classification, Fig. 25

The shape of the following figure is also quite hard to make out – it looks like it could possibly be a IIIB unclad figure, given the shape of the torso (25 or 26 in Furumark’s typology above).

The British Museum has other Mycenaean kraters with chariot scenes from Enkomi, including this example with a magnificent horse; nothing that looks quite like this sherd though!

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Late Helladic IIIA2 krater found at Enkomi © The British Museum

There may be more sherds out there from the British Museum’s excavations at Enkomi with this distinctive appearance, and it’s possible that one day we’ll be able to see more of the scene, with or without the assistance of technology!

Back to the University

Over the last few months I’ve been having a great time working with two Classics undergraduates, Jess Matthews and Hannah Webbe, to produce a new display of the University’s ancient Cypriot collection, previously on temporary display in the Leeds City Museum. This blog has charted my progress in researching this collection:

So the next step was to bring the objects back to the University of Leeds, where they came to light in a cellar in 1913. Thanks to generous support from the Footsteps Fund, and from the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, Classics at Leeds were able to purchase a new custom-built display case, which is now housed in the Ullmann Foyer in the Michael Sadler Building (Michael Sadler, of course, succeeded Nathan Bodington as the second Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds).

Jess and Hannah have worked hard to explore the objects and their histories, and I’ve really enjoyed working with them. We’ve had a lot of fun with this project over the last few months:

Getting a closer look at the objects and deciding how to group them:

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Specifying and ordering the brand new display case!

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Deciding on the mounts for the objects, and the all-important numbering cubes:

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Turning the plan for the display into reality:

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Getting the objects grouped just right!

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The collection installed.

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The final display in situ:

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The launch on Tuesday 12 June – a lovely way of celebrating the interns’ achievement, and introducing colleagues to the new display.

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Jess and Hannah have put together a great display featuring a selection of the objects, and focusing on themes of the collection’s origins; trade and imports; damage and restoration; and modern interpretations. The display has already been greatly admired, and helps to highlight the breadth of research that goes on in Classics. From my point of view, it’s amazing to be greeted by ancient Cypriot objects every time I visit the building! Many people have helped in many ways to make it possible, and we are very grateful for all their support.

‘Cyprus: Island of Copper’ at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield

Last week I took a break from drafting my thesis chapter on the 19th century roots of the Leeds City Museum’s ancient Cypriot collection, in order to visit the new exhibition at Weston Park Museum, ‘Cyprus: Island of Copper’.

Sheffield Weston Park

Weston Park Museum, Sheffield 

In fact, the Leeds and Sheffield collections have a lot of shared history; many of Sheffield’s objects came from the collection of T.B. Sandwith, of which a large part was placed on loan at Weston Park after 1875, then sold by the Sheffield auctioneers Nicholson, Greaves, Barber, and Hastings in 1897, in aid of Armenian and Cretan refugees. I would love to see the catalogue of this auction, as it would reveal so much about the spread of ancient Cypriot objects in the region, but so far my researches have drawn a blank – any suggestions would be very welcome! At any rate, it seems that the curators of Weston Park promptly bought back part of the collection for the Museum, where it has remained ever since. The other part of the collection came from the Reverend Julius de Baere, based for a while in Limassol; it would be fascinating to find out more about his collecting activities and networks.

I’ve seen some of the Sheffield collection in store before, and it includes some wonderful objects. It was great to see them in this thoughtful and interesting display, which conveys a lot of information in a relatively small space. I particularly liked the double-sided glass display cases which allowed an excellent view of both sides of the objects, and also let the sunshine illuminate the ancient glass.

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Ancient Cypriot glass on display at Weston Park © Museums Sheffield

There’s a stunning example of Black Polished incised ware, made around 4,000 years ago – it looks so fresh and vibrant, having sat out most of the intervening years in a tomb. It’s very similar in style to the one illustrated in Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper.

Black Polished incised vessel

Black Polished incised vessel © Museums Sheffield

 

Sandwith article Plate IX

Black Polished vessel from Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper

I was very struck by this jug with a figurine holding an oenochoe – the same type as the jug from the Kent Collection which I discussed at the ‘Classical Cyprus’ conference last year, but a very different example. The figurine is large, clearly moulded separately and mounted on the jug with the aid of a step for her feet to rest on, and she’s holding the oenochoe almost at arm’s length. I don’t know how large the opening from the base of the oenochoe into the main jug is, but from the size of the oenochoe, it looks like you could pour at a reasonable rate; presumably for some kind of special occasion rather than everyday use.

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Jug with figurine holding an oenochoe © Museums Sheffield

 

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Jug with figurine holding an oenochoe – side view © Museums Sheffield

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Jug with figurine holding an oenochoe, from the Kent Collection, Harrogate           © Harrogate Museums and Arts

However, the use in ritual of this bull askos really stretches the imagination. It doesn’t look like it’s got an opening at the mouth, just at… the other end. At any rate, it looks like a sturdy beast, with a considerable capacity.

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Bull askos © Museums Sheffield

The most surprising things for me were the jugs with faked inscriptions – I’ve never seen anything quite like this before! They’re really interesting in indicating the drivers of commercial value in the 19th century. As a rule, Cypriot ceramics were too easily accessible to make it worthwhile to fake them, but ceramics with inscriptions are a different story. Evidently there was a market of buyers who knew that inscriptions were important, but weren’t sufficiently clued up to recognise problems with the technique (the characters were incised after firing) and the loose approximations of ancient scripts.

Jugs with faked inscriptions

Jugs with faked inscriptions © Museums Sheffield

The exhibition was produced with the Sheffield and Peak District Young Archaeologists’ Clubs, and their responses to the objects were included in the display; a chance to see them from a fresh perspective, and a helpful reminder of how speculative and subjective much of our interpretation of ancient art has to be. Their artistic responses also demonstrated that time had been spent looking closely at the objects and experiencing them at first hand, encouraging the visitor to do the same.

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Responses to the Sheffield ancient Cypriot collection by Young Archaeologists’ Clubs © Museums Sheffield

I timed my visit to coincide with a lunchtime talk by Sheffield Museums’ Curator of Archaeology, Martha Lawrence, who gave lots of insights into the collection’s histories and the themes of the exhibition, including trade, metalworking, religion and burial, and writing. The objects have all been professionally photographed as part of the Cyprus Institute’s project on Cypriot Antiquities in Foreign Museums, which is providing a real impetus to make records of smaller collections available online.

The exhibition is on until April 2019, and I thoroughly recommend a visit – I’m hoping to go back myself for a second look!

Archive fishing

Last week I visited the Local Archive Service at Doncaster, to see the archives of William Aldam of Frickley Hall.

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Signature of William Aldam © Doncaster Archives

It’s amazing how many of Aldam’s papers have survived; there are estate records, papers from his Parliamentary career and copious notes from his service at the Quarterly Sessions, as well as personal and travel diaries – a wealth of information for historians.

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Aldam’s travel diary for 1836 © Doncaster Archives

I very much enjoyed Aldam’s notes from the Classics lectures he attended as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge – including lots of vocabulary notes, allowing us to share the experience across the centuries of attempting to translate Demosthenes. He even took some notes on the ‘exploits in Cyprus’ of Evagoras I.

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Page from Aldam’s notebook, ‘Classical Lectures: Freshman’s year’ © Doncaster Archives

It’s dangerously easy to get sidetracked in the archives – a topic explored by a recent HARN conference (it looks fascinating and I would have loved to be there, but, ironically, decided I couldn’t afford the distraction). Despite the many topics of interest covered by Aldam’s archives, I was there to explore the circumstances surrounding his donation of an ancient Cypriot amphora to the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society – as I’ve mentioned before, one of the earliest pieces from Cyprus to join the Museum’s collection. The archives cover Aldam’s travels in Europe between 1833 and 1851, but intriguingly, there are no records of any journeys in 1837 – a year when we know, thanks to the research of Geoffrey Lewis, that Aldam visited Athens and possibly Constantinople, and sent art objects home to his father. I was hoping to find some references to his purchases in 1837, or some hints of what his itinerary might have been, but without avail. It’s clear that he was an alert, engaged and interested traveller, recording his impressions of the landscapes, buildings and people he saw, as well as many detailed descriptions of meals. Journeying through many countries he found much to admire and criticise in all of them, but it is Italy which seems to have made the greatest impression, judging by the words with which he summed up his experiences: ‘Oh Italy, sweet Italy, I love thee from my heart’.

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Page from Aldam’s travel diaries © Doncaster Archives

But of Cyprus, antiquities, or the amphora, nothing. Fortunately I had another line of enquiry to pursue. I discovered a while back that Aldam had chaired a meeting of the Geological and Polytechnic Society of the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1870, at which a paper by Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, ‘On recent discoveries of Greco-Phoenician Pottery at Dali’, was read by John Holmes. This seems to have been the earliest presentation of Sandwith’s research in England, predating his 1871 paper for the Society of Antiquaries. Aldam refers to this event in his daily diary:

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Aldam’s diary entry for Wednesday 28 September, 1870

‘Last night I threw some matter together for what I should say as president of the West Riding Geological & Polytechnical Society – this morning wrote many letters – went to Doncaster at 12.30 – the W.R. G. & P. meeting began at 2 – after a short time a fair attendance – I made a few introductory remarks – after which 5 papers were read – some of great interest – I gave £5 to purchase Greek pottery from Cyprus for Leeds Museum’.

It seems highly likely that this donation was used to purchase the amphora which was then recorded in the Report of the Council of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society as Aldam’s gift to its Museum. In this case, the amphora never entered his possession at all; it’s an interesting example of a name becoming attached to an object through funding rather than ownership. We don’t know how Aldam came to make the donation, but I detect the influence of John Holmes, who was tireless in promoting Sandwith’s collection and the charitable aims behind its sale. This suggests that the amphora, like many other ancient Cypriot objects in the Leeds Museums and Galleries collection, can tentatively be linked back to Sandwith. It’s the kind of object which could very plausibly be associated with him; indeed, National Museums Scotland has a similar amphora from his collection. It underscores just how influential Sandwith’s collection, and Holmes’ promotion of it, was in encouraging interest in ancient Cyprus in the UK.

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Amphora (ex. Sandwith) in the National Museums Scotland collection (NMS 1901.317) © E. Goring, A Mischievous Pastime (1988) p.81

One mystery remains – the claim in the Report of the Council of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society that this amphora was ‘found among tombs in Laimia, Cyprus’, which doesn’t make much sense. My next step is to see whether the Sandwith connection helps to shed any light on this!

Project: Redisplay

It’s been great having the Leeds University ancient Cypriot collection on display at the Leeds City Museum. I have really enjoyed giving a couple of gallery talks, and sharing my enthusiasm for the collection with a variety of visitors. But all good things must come to an end, and it’s nearly time for the collection to take a trip back up the road, to a new display case at the University.

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Display at the Leeds City Museum

Thanks to support from the Footsteps Fund, we’ve been able to take on two interns to work with me on designing the new display. I’m thrilled to be working with two talented and enthusiastic undergraduate students, and hope they enjoy the experience of putting their research into practice, and setting up a new display for the benefit of staff, students and visitors. I’m very intrigued to see where their research leads them, and what themes they want to prioritise; the ancient and modern history of the collection opens up a number of avenues to explore, and there’s plenty of scope for creativity in interpreting and presenting it. Supporting their work will be a priority for me in the New Year, and definitely something to look forward to.