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.

Mycenaean sherd

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.

Scene typology

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.

Man

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!

BM 1897,0401 929

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!

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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!

The objects installed

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.

Glass

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.

Jug

Jug with figurine holding an oenochoe © Museums Sheffield

 

Side view of jug

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

Kent jug

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.

Bull askos

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.

Signature

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.

NMS 1901.317

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.

Classical Cyprus in Graz

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity of presenting at the Classical Cyprus conference (21-23rd September) organised by the University of Graz. I thoroughly enjoyed researching my paper over the summer, focusing on objects from the Kent Collection in Harrogate and tracing their itineraries, and pulling together a number of threads that I’ve been following for a while. My research led me to the Paul Mellon Centre, to the National Art Library at the V&A, and back to the Mercer Art Gallery to ascertain with an unbent paperclip that the miniature oenochoe on the jug below could function as a spout. I’ve had so much help from the professionals at all these institutions and more – one of the most rewarding things about my research is the generosity of others in helping me take it forward.

Jug

Jug with female figurine holding oeneochoe on the shoulder © Mercer Art Gallery

But onwards to Graz. I’ve never been before, but certainly would visit again, not least for the amazing Schlossberg with views out over the city. The eye-catching building in the middle-left is the Modern Art gallery, which sadly I didn’t get to see – but if its contents match its exterior, it must be well worth a visit.

View over Graz

View over Graz

The conference itself was held in the beautiful setting of the Meerscheinschlӧssl, a historic building belonging to the University, complete with allegorical ceiling paintings.

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Ceiling of the central hall, Meerscheinschlӧssl

We were also treated to a reception in the Institute for Archaeology’s gallery at the University to mark the launch of the new publication Antikes Zypern. Kulturen im Dialog.

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Gabriele Koiner introducing Antikes Zypern. Kulturen im Dialog

The conference papers were many and varied – it was an excellent, intensive programme, examining Classical Cyprus from a wide range of angles and approaches. Highlights for me included Pauline Maillard’s paper on reuniting the the corpus of figurines from ‘Le sanctuaire féminin des Salines de Kition’; Viola Lewandowski on ‘Attische Keramik aus Marion in Berlin’; Anja Ulbrich on ‘Adoption and adaptation of Greek iconography in Cypriot votive sculpture of the Classical period’; Olympia Bobou’s fascinating discussion of a ‘temple girl‘ from the Fitzwilliam Museum; and Stuart Dunn on the Heritage Gazetteer of Cyprus. All the papers were hugely interesting, and I look forward to revisiting them in more detail when the edited volume arising from the conference is published.

Group photo (c) Uni Graz slash Leljak

Conference participants on the first day. © Uni Graz/Leljak

I also managed to fit in a quick visit to the Archaeology Museum at Schloss Eggenberg, and was so glad that I did. It’s a very modern building, largely underground, in the setting of the formal gardens surrounding the 17th century palace of Schloss Eggenberg, creating a sharp juxtaposition of periods which is intensified by the ancient objects it displays. I was pleased to see in person the two limestone heads discussed in Gabriele Koiner’s conference paper.

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Limestone heads © Graz Archaeology Museum

I was also intrigued by this display of limestone votive figurines. Their arrangement in the case helps to bring out the way they might have been crowded together in a sanctuary, but also makes it more difficult to appreciate them as individual objects.

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Limestone votive figurines © Graz Archaeology Museum

The museum space is modern and austere, in complete contrast with the approach taken at the Vienna Kunsthistoriches Museum, for example. Questions implicitly posed by the objects on display are written large on the walls, including:

Hat Kult mehr mit der Liebe zu tun oder mit dem Tod?

Tragen wir Schmuck, um begehrt zu werden?

Seit wann essen wir nicht aus Hunger, sondern aus Genuss?

Brauchen wir Götter?

This was a really interesting way of bringing out these issues for the visitor, and allowing scope for a broad interpretation of the significance of the objects. As an example of the presentation of an ancient Cypriot collection, I found it striking and effective, and it gave me plenty to think about.

The best conferences send me back to my teaching and research refreshed, re-energised, and with many new questions to answer and avenues to explore, and this was certainly the case with Graz. I’m very grateful to the organisers for putting together such a fascinating and successful conference, and of course to WRoCAH for funding my attendance. My next step is to turn my paper into a finished product for publication, which will definitely keep me busy – I suspect the February deadline will come round surprisingly quickly!

 

From the cellar to the museum… and beyond

Thanks to the Leeds City Museum, the University of Leeds’ ancient Cypriot collection is finally on display for a larger audience – something I’ve wanted to happen for a long time. Until around December, a selection of the objects are being displayed in a new case in the Ancient Worlds gallery at the Museum. It’s been so interesting and educational for me to help the Museum’s curators to put together the display, from deciding which objects should be included, to designing leaflets, writing the interpretative panel text and labels, and placing the objects in the case. It’s great to see my Masters research put to practical use!

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Display of University of Leeds’ ancient Cypriot collection at the Leeds City Museum

As long-term blog readers will know, this collection emerged from obscurity in the University’s cellars in 1913, shortly after the death of Sir Nathan Bodington, first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds. His widow, Lady Eliza Bodington, went to some trouble to ensure that the objects were assessed and appropriately placed, and the bulk of the collection has found a home in the Classics department ever since (a further portion was donated to the Leeds Girls’ High School, but its current whereabouts is unknown).

Thanks to the generosity of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, conservation work was carried out by the Leeds City Museum’s conservator a couple of years ago, revealing details unseen for a very long time, and stabilising the objects for the future. It’s great to see the collection now on display, so the results of this conservation can be seen by museum visitors, and something of the objects’ history – known and conjectured – can be explored. I’m planning to give a gallery talk on the collection and its background, and generally to make myself available for any questions – so if anyone wants to know more, do get in touch!

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Front page of leaflet accompanying display

The display is generously supported by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities, and as part of this it’s accompanied by a leaflet with background information for adults, and one with activities for children. I’ve really enjoyed exploring different ways of looking at the objects and thinking about them.

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First page of children’s trail

I’m hopeful that this is just the start of the collection’s public engagements. After its stay at the Museum, it is due to move to a new home on display in the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the University of Leeds, where Classics is now located. This will offer further opportunities to explore the objects and their history, working with Classics undergraduate students.

I am reminded again of Eliza Bodington’s wishes in donating part of the collection to the Classics department in 1913, that ‘it might encourage a taste for archaeology in which my husband was so interested.’ I hope its current location among the archaeological collections in the Ancient Worlds gallery, and its future display at the University, will help to honour and fulfil this wish.