More ancient Cypriot art in Leeds?

Trawling through some files in the Leeds University Library Special Collections yesterday, I was intrigued to come across the 1994-95 catalogue for the Educational Resource Service. This detailed a huge variety of art objects for schools to borrow, including some that looked distinctly Cypriot.

As far as I can make out, ownership of the collection seems to have passed back and forth between Wakefield District Council and Bretton Hall College, which has now closed. So where did the Cypriot pottery end up? It could have been assimilated into the University’s collection (which I haven’t managed to pin down yet), or possibly into the Museum or School Loans Service (though the objects above don’t look very familiar). Another huge question is: how did the artefacts get into the collection in the first place? Bretton Hall has a long and distinguished history; is it possible they were collected by a former owner? Hopefully there’ll be more information to follow…

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The joys of Photoshop

I’ve recently acquired Adobe Photoshop for my home computer, and I must admit I’m loving it. Part of the benefit is that playing around with contrast levels and so on can help to clarify images which have faded from the surface of a vessel. For example, the Leeds City Museum collection includes a sherd of a Mycenaean vessel with a figure which is now very indistinct. The Photoshopped version doesn’t suddenly restore it to perfection, but it does make it slightly easier to see what’s there.

Mycenaean sherd
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Mycenaean sherd (edited)
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Admittedly part of the problem is my less than perfect photographic technique, so it is helpful to have software to compensate.

I think it’s very difficult to identify the right balance between conservation and restoration in dealing with ancient artefacts. Playing around with images digitally, where it has no impact on the vessel itself, is an interesting way of exploring this.

Thomas Backhouse Sandwith and the triple juglet

(A version of this post previously appeared on the Leeds Museums and Galleries ‘Secret Lives of Objects’ blog – well worth a visit.)

Much of the collection of Cypriot antiquities which now belongs to the Leeds City Museum was formed under the auspices of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, established in 1819 and still going strong. The 19th century activities of the ‘Leeds Phil and Lit’, its members and the curators of its museum are hugely impressive, and help explain how Leeds came to have such an impressive City Museum.

The Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s museum was enriched in 1876 by the purchase of Cypriot ceramics collected by Thomas Backhouse Sandwith. Sandwith was the British Vice-Consul in Cyprus from 1865, and during his time on the island he developed a deep interest in its history and culture. He amassed a considerable collection of artefacts, some of which he brought to England. Unusually for the time, as well as collecting he also studied the ceramics in some depth, and eventually published an article in Archaeologia (the journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London), ‘On the different styles of Pottery found in Ancient Tombs in the Island of Cyprus’ (1877).

This article includes beautifully detailed hand-drawn illustrations of some of Sandwith’s finds, by one of the Society of Antiquaries’ skilled draughtsmen.

Plate IX of Sandwith’s ‘Archaeologia’ article

In fact, it appears we owe these illustrations to Sandwith’s decision to participate in  the Leeds Exhibition in 1875: a note on p.142 of his article remarks:

‘The delay in publishing this memoir has arisen from the small size of the sketches that accompanied it, which rendered them unsuitable for engraving. Advantage has, however, been taken of the author’s having sent a portion of his collection to the Leeds Exhibition, 1875, to obtain larger drawings from selected examples.’

The article is accompanied by only 26 illustrations of ceramics, and, unsurprisingly, the three vessels in the Leeds collection known to have been purchased from Sandwith are not along them. However, the triple vessel illustrated in the lower left-hand corner of plate IX (above) looked rather familiar:

Triple juglet, © Leeds Museums and Galleries

They are both examples of the intriguing composite ‘juglets’ which take the form of two or three small individual vessels joined together at the neck. The Leeds Museum juglet is made of blackened buff ware, consisting of three cone-shaped vessels joined in a single neck, with a central panel of punched decoration and one handle. This fits closely with the illustration to Sandwith’s article.

It seems at least possible that the Leeds Museum juglet is the same one collected by Sandwith and illustrated in his Archaeologia article. There are few additional ‘biographical’ details available; it could have come into the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s collection as part of the recorded acquisition, or perhaps could have been bought by someone in Leeds, and subsequently donated to the Museum.

The case for identity is strengthened by an article by R.S. Merrillees, ‘T.B. Sandwith and the beginnings of Cypriote archaeology’. Working from the illustrations to Sandwith’s article, he describes the juglet in question as:

‘…a unique Tell el Yahudiya acorn vase of a type not represented in [the standard] corpus… obviously an import and can be dated to M.C. III or L.C. I between the seventeenth and the sixteenth centuries BC.’ (Merrillees, p.224).

If the type of the juglet is rare, it seems the less likely that there would be two very similar examples. I like to think it’s the same one, and that my researches will eventually turn up the missing link in its history; we shall see!

British Empire Exhibition 1924/25

As I expected, the National Art Library was a great place to do some research.

I wish I could have spent longer there, but I had a date with Antigone at the National Theatre in the afternoon (highly recommended). Nevertheless, I did what I came to do; the books I had ordered were waiting for me, and the system worked flawlessly, thanks to the friendly and patient staff who bore with all my newbie questions.

Regarding the British Empire Exhibition, it’s a case of a few answers and many more questions. Thanks to The Lion Roars at Wembley by D.R. Knight and A.D. Sabey, and a cheerful contemporary guide by M. Grant Cook, I now know more about the Cyprus exhibitions in 1924/25.

According to Cook, in 1924:

‘The Cyprus Pavilion transports us quickly to the far-famed island with its sun and colour, its ancient traditions, its fascinating legends and history… Pottery appears in all the familiar classic forms, but distinguished by a characteristic native touch from other pottery.’ (Cook, p.66).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this doesn’t give much insight into the background or nature of the ceramics on display. The exhibition was organised by Mr W. Bevan, who was the Director of Agriculture in Cyprus; it would seem reasonable to assume that his attention would be focused more on the natural resources of Cyprus than on its artistic contribution. Which leaves the question of who selected the ceramics, and from what collection.

Knight and Sabey explain that the Exhibition as a whole was considerably in deficit when it closed in 1925, which may explain why the contents were sold off. They give details of the auction of the Hong Kong artefacts, but it’s not clear yet how the Cypriot ceramics came to be sold. I think my next step is to consult the Colonial Office annual reports for Cyprus for the relevant years; if I can track them down!

National Art Library and Wembley exhibition

Getting excited about my first visit to the National Art Library at the V&A in the next few days. The Leeds University Library is brilliant and spectacular – and has surprisingly extensive holdings on Cypriot archaeology – but no one library can do everything, so I’m going to London to fill some of the gaps. I’ll be looking at Sotheby’s catalogues from the 1880s (more on that another time), and also reading about the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley in 1924/5.

We know that some of the Cypriot ceramics in the Leeds City Museum were purchased by the then Curator, Mr Henry Crowther, following the Exhibition at Wembley.

Henry Crowther Wembley purchase

This raises several questions: what was in the Cyprus exhibit at Wembley, and who arranged it? Who did the ceramics belong to, where were they from, and how were they selected? How was the sale organised, and who benefited? Hopefully after some more reading I’ll be getting closer to some answers.