The last ancient Cypriot pot

Like so many others, I’m excited to get back to visiting museums and galleries, travelling by train, going to other cities, and generally picking up some of the activities that have been inaccessible for many months now. I took a welcome step in this direction yesterday with my first visit to the Leeds Museums Discovery Centre for over a year. I had no idea when I visited in February 2020 that it would be the last time until my thesis was nearly finished, so I had a lot of ground to make up. I’m really grateful to Kat, the curator of archaeology, for getting me in at the first opportunity!

It was fantastic to be back in the research room, and to have the chance to get hands on with objects again. I had previously come across records for a small group of unidentified ceramics, many of them associated with John Holmes, one of the main collectors behind the ancient Cypriot collection, so I was keen to take a look at them. Most of them looked Romano-British, in my decidedly non-expert opinion, including one labelled ‘Anglo-Roman, Colchester’, for which we can probably take Holmes’ word. However, one object, described as a ‘small red cup with flat handle’, definitely rang a few bells.

It’s a handmade Late Bronze Age Base Ring tankard, with a biconical body, a wide neck with a flat rim, a delicate ring base and a strap handle. The fabric has that distinctive metallic Base Ring ‘ting’, and it’s fired with a patchy red-brown slip.

Base Ring tankard © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Rather endearingly, the applied rings of decoration below the rim are a bit slapdash at the ends near the handle, and the whole thing is somewhat wonky.

Not entirely symmetrical. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

There’s a break across the width of the handle at the join to the rim, and it seems quite likely that there would have been a thumb grip there, which has now been lost. It can be compared to a similar tankard in the British Museum’s collection.

Base Ring tankard in the British Museum (BM 1868,0905.35) © The British Museum

It’s marked with ‘Hs’ on the base, which is John Holmes’ mark, so it can be securely identified as part of his collection. It may originally have come from T.B. Sandwith‘s collection, and perhaps from the region around Dali, where Sandwith collected and where the British Museum’s tankard is from, but this can only be speculative.

Holmes’ mark. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

One thing that’s become clear while working on my thesis is how fluid the boundaries of a collection such as this are, where there is very little archaeological provenience, and the provenance history is complex with many gaps in the documentation. Some collections come straight from an archaeological dig to a museum, and so their identities are never in doubt, but the identification of a historic collection such as this inevitably involves quite a lot of subjective judgment. This relates both to the objects themselves – how plausible is it that they were made or found on Cyprus? – and their provenance or collection history – how confidently can we trace them back to Cyprus? I’ve called this ‘the last ancient Cypriot pot’ because it’s the last addition to my thesis – I do most sincerely hope – and marks the point at which I’m drawing a boundary around the ancient Cypriot collection for now. But I am quite sure that my assessment of which objects are in and out of the collection will be challenged and modified in the future, not least by me. The end of the thesis is not the end of the story!

More critical perspectives on archaeology in British-period Cyprus

Things have been a bit quiet here lately; I’ve been working very hard to get my thesis ready for submission (alongside home schooling), and there have been no visits to archives, no museums, no trips to conferences… One good thing has been all the excellent online activities, from training on Sketchfab via Zoom, to virtual tours of the Cypriot collections at the Ashmolean Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum and British Museum as part of the Cyprus High Commission’s ‘Cyprus@60‘ festival, to online conferences.

Cyprus@60 Online FestivalParikiaki | Parikiaki Cyprus and Cypriot News
The Cyprus High Commission’s Cyprus@60 online festival

The first stage of our very own online conference, ‘Empire and Excavation: Critical perspectives on archaeology in British-period Cyprus, 1878-1960’ took place last November – the programme and abstracts are here, and several of the presentations were recorded and are accessible via CAARI’s YouTube channel. It was fantastic to have two days of papers and discussions focusing on the history of Cypriot archaeology, and how archival research can add new perspectives and help us recover overlooked contributions and seldom-heard voices.

The next event is taking place on 29th-30th January (programme and abstracts here and registration here, all welcome!). This time we have 15 papers (spread out over the two days to avoid Zoom fatigue), broadly grouped under ‘Narratives’ and ‘Collections and Interpretation’, including one from me following antiquities from Cyprus to the British Empire Exhibition in 1924-25, and then onwards to Leeds.

Cigarette card showing the Cyprus/Palestine pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition 1924

One interesting thing about the British Empire Exhibition was the way the organisers played with scale, to emphasise both the vastness of the Empire, and the completeness of its representation in miniature form in Wembley, which was at the same time very big – a huge exhibition – and very small – a microcosm of the Empire. The exhibits in the Palace of Arts centred the Royal family in this presentation by including a Royal residence in the form of the Queen’s Dolls’ House, showcasing British design and manufacture as well as imports from across the world. Within this was contained a miniature atlas, with a miniature map of the Empire.

Miniature atlas from the Queen’s Dolls’ House, British Empire Exhibition. Photo (c) Bryars & Bryars (

These recursive, nested miniature representations aim to emphasise Britain’s rule over the Empire; an Empire which could be reduced to representations of its constituent parts, and contained within a purpose-built site in London, could be ordered and controlled, though the shallowness and partiality of the representations demonstrate just how illusory this control was. I’ll be taking a critical look at the part antiquities played in the representation of Cyprus at the Exhibition, how they came to the Leeds Museum, and how they were interpreted and used in that setting. Virtual conferences can’t really compete with the real thing, but will keep me going until we’re able to meet up again!

What’s new

I should have been in Cyprus this week, staying at the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Unit, as part of my Fellowship trips this year. I had lots of archives and museum visits planned, but, like so many things in 2020, it was not to be. I’m really hoping it will be possible next year, it feels like far too long since I’ve been to Cyprus, and I’m eager to explore some new directions in my research.

In the meantime, there are other exciting things on the horizon! Together with Thomas Kiely at the British Museum and Lindy Crewe at CAARI, I’ve been organising a conference titled ‘Empire and excavation: critical perspectives on archaeology in British-period Cyprus, 1878-1960’. The original plan was for this to take place in Nicosia, but for now it’s being taken forward through a series of online events. The first is taking place via Zoom on 6-7 November: the programme is here and registration is here. Further online events will follow early next year.

I’m also really pleased that a couple of papers I’ve been working on for some time have now been published – both in the space of a week! A joint article with Dr Sally Waite of Newcastle University on the Kent collection is in the Journal of the History of Collections: ‘Re-collecting Cypriot antiquity: The Kent collection in Harrogate’. We’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to work on the Kent collection, which has been discussed from time to time on this blog, and to explore its history.

A group of ancient Cypriot objects from the Kent Collection, Harrogate © Harrogate Museums and Arts, Harrogate Borough Council

The other is in the Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, titled ‘The Archaeological Activities of the Scott-Stevensons in Cyprus, 1878–1883’. It’s about Andrew and Esmé Scott-Stevenson, their explorations in Cyprus and their collections of antiquities, some of which I’ve traced to UK collections. It’s been so much fun exploring this episode in the entangled history of Cypriot archaeology.

As always, please do get in touch if you’d like to share ideas or hear more about my work – I love making contact with blog readers.

Labels in Liverpool: the Garstang Museum

Thanks to a tip-off from the Alexander Malios Research Institute, I recently came across this Black on Red flask from the Garstang Museum in Liverpool, which is featured on the Museum’s Sketchfab site.

Garstang Museum BoR

Garstang Museum Black on Red flask

Sketchfab is a great way of making objects accessible – even more so, in some ways, than having them on display (many’s the time I’ve awkwardly crouched to see the bases of objects through glass shelves).

Label crop Manchester

Unsuccessful photo of object labels at the Manchester Museum

I’d really like to try Sketchfab for the University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection, it would be a brilliant project to do with undergraduates, though the prospects look rather remote at the moment. One of its major advantages is that you can look at the object from all angles – including a good look at this label on the base of the flask. It’s always exciting to find a label on an ancient Cypriot object, as a clue to its travels, and this one looks very familiar.

Garstang label

Label on base of Black and Red flask, from the Garstang Museum

It identifies this flask as having been on display in the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in Leeds, alongside other objects from Cyprus put up for sale by Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, HM Consul on Cyprus from 1865 to 1870, in order to raise money to relieve famine on the island.  It formed part of a large display of Cypriot antiquities, including what must have been quite an extensive range of Black on Red ware.  In the Official Catalogue to the Exhibition, these were described, with more enthusiasm than precision, as:

‘…a series of vessels and objects not readily classified. They are generally water bottles, scent, oil, or colour vessels, of a fine, red smooth body and slightly varnished, with ornaments of rings and circles, both horizontal and vertical, in black. The workmanship of this class of pottery exhibits a high skill, and the variety of circling is most profuse and effective.’

Many people bought Sandwith’s objects from the 1875 Exhibition – serious and casual collectors, those who wanted to know more about the ancient past, and those who simply admired the appearance of the objects. Parts of the collection were loaned or given to museums in York, Halifax and Sheffield when the Exhibition closed, and many objects were later dispersed in sales. Before the Exhibition took place, some of Sandwith’s objects were sold at a dealer’s shop in Liverpool  in 1870, and some of these were bought for the Liverpool Free Public Museum. A Mr G. Sinclair Robertson seems to have bought at least one ancient Cypriot vessel directly from Sandwith’s brother in 1870, and probably donated it to the Liverpool Museum in 1876. But this flask had a different route, which ended not at the Liverpool Museum, but at the Garstang Museum, then known as the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology, a library and museum founded by John Garstang in 1904 as a resource for archaeology at the University of Liverpool. Garstang (1876-1956) was an archaeologist who excavated in Egypt and the Sudan, Anatolia and Palestine. He was skilled at fundraising for excavations and other projects, and managed to muster private support for his new Institute.

Cypriot pottery was sent to the Institute from the government of Cyprus in 1904, and from the Cyprus Museum in 1922, but this flask wouldn’t have been part of either of these donations, having been in the country since at least 1875. It might have formed part of the founding collections, perhaps part of a larger donation, or might have come to the Institute at a later date. Research in the Museum’s archives – sadly not possible under present circumstances – could perhaps shed some light on this; my guess would be that it was donated from a miscellaneous collection of antiquities that had outlived the enthusiasm of its original purchaser. The disparate collections put together in the 19th century often caused difficulties for their inheritors, and transferring them to a public institution was a common solution, forming the basis of many of the public collections that survive today.

This flask is no. 117 in Mee and Steel’s 1998 catalogue of the collection, which gives the provenance as ‘unknown’, and doesn’t mention the Yorkshire Exhibition. We don’t know anything for sure about the archaeological provenance of the flask (though we could speculate on the basis of the evidence, albeit patchy, for Sandwith’s explorations and collecting in Cyprus), but this record reflects changing approaches to the history of Cypriot archaeology, and the relatively recent growth of interest in the history of collections. Labels are a gift to the researcher, and I hope that as more collections become digitised – both their information, and the objects themselves – they’ll become easier to discover.






‘Cyprus: A Dynamic Island’ at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

When I saw social media posts about some of the planning for a major new exhibition on Cyprus at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, I knew it was one I wouldn’t want to miss. Fortunately Schiphol is just a short hop by plane from Leeds, and Leiden isn’t much further, so at the end of November I treated myself to a day trip to the museum.


Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

The exhibition ‘Cyprus: A Dynamic Island’ is impressive both for the range of stunning objects on display, and the imaginative interpretation and design. Overall, it provides an effective overview of the archaeology of Cyprus. It combines chronological and thematic approaches, walking the visitor through the timeline of ancient Cyprus from the Neolithic to the Byzantine periods, illustrated by standout rather than representative objects, such as the spectacular bronze krater from Salamis, on loan from the Cyprus Museum.

Salamis krater

Detail of bronze krater from Salamis © Cyprus Museum, Nicosia

It was also lovely to see a Pastoral Style krater from Enkomi with exuberantly dappled bulls, reminiscent of one in the Leeds Museums collection.

Enkomi krater

Pastoral Style krater from Enkomi © Cyprus Museum, Nicosia

Alongside this chronological overview, further displays give an insight into cross-cutting themes including ritual, theatre and the sea. As the title suggests, there is a strong focus on Cyprus’ dynamism, both its responsiveness to changing circumstances and the sense of movement in its cultural products. Some of the exhibits are placed against projected moving backdrops, which works very effectively in the case of the model boats.

Model boat

Model boat, from the sea near Amathus © Konomis collection

Others are themselves on the move; I really enjoyed the ring of dancers who circled round while other dancers and musicians joined the wider scene, a very effective way of varying the usual static, forward-facing presentation of such figures.

Moving dancers

Groups of dancers

The exhibition also included a mobile chandelier by Michael Anastassiades, nodding to the continuity of artistic practice in Cyprus, alongside brief presentations of the reception of art from ancient Cypriot by Picasso, Yves Klein, and other artists. It’s great to see these new explorations of Picasso’s dialogues with ancient art, a subject I’ve been interested in for a while, including the recent exhibition Picasso and Antiquity at the Museum of Cycladic Art. 

The exhibition was designed in partnership with the Department of Antiquities in Cyprus and the Cyprus Museum, Nicosia, and as such it included many objects on loan, such as the spectacular Middle Bronze Age terracotta composite vessel from Pyrgos featuring scenes from everyday life. No matter how often you see images of these objects, it’s just not the same experience as being able to look at them in person, and examine them closely from different angles. The only aspect I thought worked less well was the inclusion of replicas such as the bronze Horned God from Enkomi; it’s helpful in a way to have them to compare with relevant objects, but the double-take involved when they don’t look quite right can be disorientating.

Pyrgos vessel

Composite vessel from Pyrgos © Limassol Archaeological Museum

The ROM’s own objects are shown to the very best advantage alongside generous loans from the Cyprus Museum and others including the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam and the Världkulturmuseerna in Stockholm, for example in this mixed group of warriors.


Figurines of warriors on foot and on horseback, © Cyprus Museum / Allard Pierson Museum / RMO / Local Archaeological Museum of Kourion

In general there is an excellent selection of terracotta figurines, including a pedlar with his pack, a bell-shaped male figure with articulated legs who is clutching a goat (both from the Allard Pierson Museum), and a variation on my favourite British Museum figurine of a woman hung about with children, this one also from Lapithos, in the Cyprus Museum.


Pedlar, votary, and woman © Allard Pierson Museum and Cyprus Museum, Nicosia

It’s wonderful to see ancient Cypriot objects on the move and forming new combinations. On a much smaller scale, I think something similar could be done to help local museums in the UK get the most out of their small ancient Cypriot collections, through touring exhibitions; this is something I’d like to look into one day (though it’s probably unrealistic to expect the Salamis bronze krater to go on an extensive regional tour!). The exhibition provides a brief and lucid outline of the history of archaeology on Cyprus, covering the Cesnola brothers, other consular collectors, and the advent of John Linton Myres (who is given full credit for the improvements in methodology he introduced), and also presenting the excavation histories of individual sites. Cypriot archaeology is still living with the consequences of early exploration and collecting, of which these small, dispersed collections in the UK are a product, and my research so far suggests that more can be done to uncover and link up these histories, and explore the multivalency of the objects.

Through this cross-cutting coverage of periods, sites, and themes, the exhibition provides a thorough overview of ancient Cyprus for any visitor who might not bring much prior knowledge with them, while also offering insights and a fantastic visual experience for everyone. The exhibition runs to 15 March 2020, and really should not be missed.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life with birds: still from the video installation
© ROM Leiden

Networking in Hull

Thanks to Alice Rose, research and documentation assistant in Archaeology at Hull Museums, I’ve had the opportunity to consult Hull and East Riding Museum‘s archives relating to the collections of Arthur E. Hastings Crofts (1849-1912) of Bradford. Crofts was a keen collector of pottery and glass, mainly Roman, from the Near East and Cyprus, and much of his collection passed to Hull Museums through a family bequest after his death.

Crofts’ correspondence is particularly interesting to me for its information about early 20th century networks of people collecting ancient Cypriot objects in Yorkshire and the Humber. He appears to have been initiated to the pleasures of collecting by William Cudworth, a local historian from Bradford, whom I’ve discussed before in connection with the Kent Collection in Harrogate. Cudworth seems to have recruited his friends and acquaintances as fellow collectors; he asks Crofts to ‘allow me to consider you as a pupil in the little school of archaeologists under my charge’, suggesting he saw himself as a leader in this area. Cudworth’s recommendations to his friend give an insight into his own collecting practices:

‘In collecting, keep to certain definite lines, instead of being tempted to acquire relics, however cheap, simply because they are old. Otherwise you only get a lot of curious things which lead to nowhere. In your case, you might adopt as Line 1 – Palestine, Line 2 – Cyprus, Line 3 – Roman remains in England. The first two might suffice.’

‘A lot of curious things which lead to nowhere’ might describe many antiquarian collections, but Cudworth evidently had greater intellectual ambitions. He was enthusiastic about Crofts’ progress in Cypriot collecting:

‘In Line 2 you are already at the top of the school. So far as Bradford is concerned, you lick the master into fits. Go on urging your friend ad lib. Like Oliver Twist always be wanting MORE.’

Cudworth letter s

Letter from Cudworth to Crofts
© Hull and East Riding Museum: Hull Museums

Although Crofts diffused his collecting along several ‘lines’, he still managed to accumulate an impressive ancient Cypriot collection, much of which now belongs to Hull and East Riding Museum. Thanks to the excellent archival practices of both Crofts and the Museum, these objects have unusually rich collection histories, and can help to fill the gaps in our understanding of local, national and international Cypriot collecting networks.

As well as providing advice and guidance, Cudworth aided local collectors through his connection with the well-known dealer, ‘my London friend’, George Fabian Lawrence, best known for his role in relation to the discovery of the Cheapside Hoard. Lawrence regularly dispatched groups of objects from his dealership which Cudworth then sent on to his collecting friends, remitting funds to Lawrence for any sales made. The correspondence provides an insight into the domestic nature of this collecting, far removed from the archetype of the solitary antiquarian. Women’s voices are not heard in this archive, but their presences are detectable in the background; Cudworth mentions a piece which ‘Mr Fred Craven was taking away as a present to his wife’, and comments of a new purchase, ‘I hope Mrs Crofts will like [it] as well as yourself’. The collectors’ wives could hardly have been oblivious of the constant flow of ancient objects in and out of their houses, and may, to some extent, have been actively involved.

After Cudworth’s death in 1906, Crofts bought part of his collection, including Cypriot objects formerly part of the Lawrence-Cesnola collections. The Cesnola brothers’ publications seem to have been Cudworth’s main source of written information on ancient Cyprus, unsurprisingly for this period. He makes frequent references to A.P. di Cesnola’s Salaminia in describing objects from his collection; his edition of this work was donated to a local museum in 1951, and I am attempting to track it down.


Salaminia by A.P. di Cesnola

Crofts then took over Cudworth’s role as Lawrence’s Yorkshire correspondent, and received many dispatches of ancient objects, mainly lamps and glass. One striking aspect of this collecting activity is how hands-on the process of gaining knowledge was; Lawrence comments to Crofts of one consignment of lamps that ‘At least they will be instructive for you to look at, if you have no room’. Looking at and handling objects was the means of building up expertise.

In September 1908, Lawrence sent Crofts a series of lamps which were ‘the result of the digging of a Mr Pierides on his property at Curium Cyprus’. This is a most welcome archival sighting of Kleanthes Pierides, the source of many ancient Cypriot objects in the Kent Collection in Harrogate. Pierides wrote extensively to the British Museum and the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris to enquire about objects in his collection and the possibility of arranging sales, but it hasn’t previously been clear how his objects made their way to Yorkshire. In my paper for the ‘Classical Cyprus’ conference at Graz in 2017, I speculated that Pierides had sent objects to England through arrangements with private collectors, and it is interesting to get some insight into how this took place. A sale at Christie’s in 1908 included gold, gems, and glass, but not pottery of the kind found in the Kent Collection; it’s therefore very pleasing to hear from Lawrence in September 1908 that ‘I got what remains of the Pierides Coll at a lower rate than he wanted when he first came to London. His best went to Christies and sold well.’

Crofts had already made more direct contact with Pierides in 1907 via J.R. Holmes, whom Alice has identified as a Bradford solicitor who moved to Cyprus and worked at the District Court in Limassol. From the tone of his correspondence, he appears to have been an old acquaintance of Crofts, and familiar with his collections. He gives a vivid description of Pierides’ collection, and suggests that Crofts should club together with local friends ‘so that you might buy for all and then the curios could travel in one parcel’. Most excitingly, photographs sent by Pierides survive in the Hull collection, evidently duplicates of those sent to his museum contacts but not preserved, alongside a list in Pierides’ handwriting of the objects he was prepared to sell.

Pierides image 3

Pierides image 2

Photographs by Kleanthes Pierides of objects from his collection
© Hull and East Riding Museum: Hull Museums

The staging of the objects in this photograph is fascinating: propped on a desk against books and packets of photograph paper, in front of a painted background of a pillar and leaves. I would particularly like to see the object marked a.1, according to Pierides ‘a bronze vase Mycenaean piece, on the handle a human face, 7 inches’. All this can be cross-referenced against Pierides’ correspondence in the British Museum and the Cabinet des Médailles, and Olivier Masson’s research into Pierides’ collection and its destinations (CCEC 24), helping to fill some gaps in the overall picture of Pierides’ operations. The final stage of the journey of Pierides’ objects to the Kent Collection is still unclear, for now, but one of the photographs he sent Crofts includes an impressive pair of large Base Ring jugs, which can be identified with some confidence as those still in the Kent Collection today.

Pierides coll s

Photograph by Kleanthes Pierides of objects from his collection
© Hull and East Riding Museum: Hull Museums


Pair of Base Ring jugs from the Kent Collection, Harrogate
© Mercer Gallery, Harrogate

As a result of these rich and detailed archives, the networks of Cypriot collecting are coming into clearer focus. These ‘second generation’ collectors benefited from the influx of objects into the UK from the Cesnola brothers’ sales from 1871 to 1892, and the importation and later dispersal of  the collections of consular and early colonial residents on Cyprus. Pierides’ correspondence also suggests that, paradoxically, the 1905 Cypriot Antiquities Law prompted the sale overseas of his collection, though this claim may also have been part of his sales technique. These small collections tended to make their way to local museums after the deaths of their collectors, where their institutional settings gave them new contexts and audiences, and began a new phase of their histories.

Postgraduate Cypriot Archaeology conference, June 2019

This year’s Postgraduate Cypriot Archaeology conference was held in Berlin, one of my all-time favourite cities. Nothing could be a better antidote to the rainy British weather than walking to the venue each morning through the wide streets in 30 degree sunshine. The conference was hosted by the Humboldt University of Berlin, in a gorgeous building that I’ve often admired on Unter den Linden.


Humboldt University, Berlin

The conference was expertly organised by the home team, with the programme encompassing an impressive 33 papers over two and a bit days without requiring parallel sessions. One of the best things about POCA is the opportunity to hear about such a wide range of research, with constant shifts in scale from the interconnected Mediterranean to ‘micro-regionalism’ and individual sites.

I enjoyed the opportunity to present some figurines from the Leeds Museums collection, and explore the opportunities afforded by their role as museum objects. It’s a good moment for Cypriot coroplastic studies – they feature strongly in a fantastic new volume on Hellenistic and Roman terracottas edited by Giorgos Papantoniou, Demetrios Michaelides and Maria Dikomitou-Eliadou. It was published just too late to read in advance of the conference, but is proving endlessly helpful as I revise my paper afterwards.

LEEDM.D.1968.0036.002 A s

Standing figure with raised arms, Cypro-Geometric II-III
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Despite the packed programme I managed to find time for a quick trip to the Neues Museum to see the ancient Cypriot collection. The Berlin Museumsinsel is being redeveloped at the moment, and various parts are closed; the plans look exciting and I’m looking forward to going back when it’s all completed. In the meantime, the Neues Museum is very much open, and the Cypriot collection did not disappoint. Last time I visited – over five years ago – various cases were being redesigned, but this time much more was on display, including some fabulous votives, and more of my favourite jugs with a figurine on the neck.

Votives 2

Centaurs and riders, C7th-C6th BC © Neues Museum, Berlin

Votives 4

Musicians, C6th BC © Neues Museum, Berlin


Jugs with a figurine opposite the handle. Cypro-Archaic II – Cypro-Classical periods.
© Neues Museum, Berlin

POCA was a wonderfully intensive and inspiring experience, and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to go, thanks to WRoCAH. There are rumours that POCA 2020 will be in Cyprus – something to look forward to!

Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things, at The Hepworth Wakefield

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the private view of The Hepworth Wakefield’s new exhibition, Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things. I’ve previously seen some of Odundo’s ceramics displayed alongside ancient Cypriot objects at Nottingham Castle Museum, so when I saw this major exhibition planned for Wakefield, I had to visit. It charts Odundo’s development and influences as an artist, and brings together a wide selection of her work with objects from other artists and cultures. These include ancient Cypriot ceramics, including some on loan from the World Museum, Liverpool, and it was great to see the exhibition with Chrissy Partheni, Curator of Classical Antiquities at the Museum.

It was wonderful to see the interplay between Odundo’s ceramic forms and those of the other objects, including Cycladic figurines, canopic jars, and a Degas bronze dancer, though unsurprisingly it was the Cypriot resemblances that attracted me most. Some specific features of ancient Cypriot ceramics, such as string loops and high cutaway spouts, are echoed in Odundo’s work, but beyond that, there’s a witty, playful, exuberant quality to Odundo’s ceramics which really speaks to the ancient Cypriot forms; a continuity of attitude and expression across the centuries. I am endlessly interested in the journeys of things, as this blog demonstrates, and one of the ways in which ancient Cypriot objects travel forward into the future is through resemblances in contemporary art, an echo here and an influence there. As Odundo says, ‘Objects hold the knowledge of our history.’

The exhibition is stunningly designed by architect Farshid Moussavi, with low, stepped plinths giving broad lines of sight and a sense of unmediated access to the objects, minimising borders and boundaries and allowing the objects to speak to each other across the spaces. They include many loans from the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, an exhibition partner. The interpretation panels are unobtrusive and give an overview of key stages in Odundo’s life and career, and her techniques and influences. I liked seeing the Cypriot pieces labelled as ‘Unknown maker’, which serves as a reminder of the craftsperson behind the object.

There is no substitute for seeing the exhibition for yourself, but these are some of the highlights from my perspective:

This Middle Cypriot dipper belonging to Barbara Hepworth has previously been on display at the Hepworth Wakefield, as part of her personal collection of objects; it’s easy to see the attraction of its delicate form and high, looping handle, with simple yet striking red painted decoration. Here it’s joined by a vessel made by Odundo, a new take on the kylix form which looks so different in transparent glass – I love the flyaway ends to the handles –  and also a Kerma culture bowl from the Fitzwilliam Museum, whose layers of colour are said to represent sediment. This case says all sorts of things about materials, just through the juxtaposition of the objects.


Drinking vessel, dipper, and bowl © The Hepworth, Wakefield

This type of symmetrical jar is perhaps one of the most striking of Odundo’s forms, and is used on the exhibition poster and branding; the red and black clay, and highly burnished finish, of these and other pieces irresistibly suggest ancient Greek Black- and Red-Figure vases.

Three vessels

Dark Symmetrical Jar and two further vessels © The Hepworth, Wakefield

I particularly liked this conjunction of an Odundo vessel, a Cypriot juglet and a Mangbetu culture jar from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The explicitly human form of the jar is made abstract in Odundo’s piece, and is reminiscent of the way that a resemblance to a bird, animal, or mythical beast is never far away from ancient Cypriot ceramics. The different levels of lustre, and punctured decoration, sends the eye from one object to the next; in combination, they are more than the sum of their parts. There’s a real sense of movement, as though the objects have been caught in momentary stasis.

Three jars

Mangbetu culture jar, Odundo vessel, Cypriot juglet © The Hepworth, Wakefield

This Black Polished jar, one of the loans from World Museum, Liverpool, could stand next to almost any of Odundo’s work; it’s in remarkably good condition and clearly demonstrates how visually appealing these objects must have been in their original context of use, with their lustrous finish and contrasting incised decoration.

Black Polished jar

Black Polished jar from World Museum, Liverpool © The Hepworth, Wakefield

The exhibition stays at the Hepworth until 2 June, then moves to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts from August to December. I don’t think one visit will be enough for me!

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.


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.

jug display

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’.

stonier liverpool

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.




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.

bm mayer

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.

robertson amphora

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.