One of my priorities in working with the Cypriot collection at the Leeds City Museum is to reconstruct the history of the ceramics – both their original area of manufacture and use, and their relatively recent excavation and subsequent changes of hands. While they are interesting and beautiful in themselves, it does add to their value as a source of information if we know something of where they came from, and who collected them.
This is often unrecoverable, as the information was never recorded or has been lost somewhere along the way. Excavations in the late 19th century were not carried out according to modern archaeological standards, to put it mildly, and there was less interest in the question of provenance than we have today. I was therefore the more surprised and pleased to find that two of the jugs in the Leeds City Museum collection came complete with tiny scrolls of paper inside, giving vital clues to their provenance – in the best tradition of the children’s adventure novel.
The jugs in question, of White Painted ware, are very similar to each other. They have a duck-like appearance, created by the ‘eye’ on either side of the rim and the trefoil lip which resembles a beak, and this is enhanced by the tail below the handle at the back. They are humorous and charming, and it’s easy to see their appeal to a collector.
The jugs most recently belonged to Mr T.E. Hollings of Calverley, Yorkshire, whose large collection of ceramics came to the Leeds Art Gallery in 1946-7. Mr Hollings managed the family business of woolen manufacture, and was also an important collector of early English ceramics, in particular Leeds ware. Most of his collection is now held by Temple Newsam House. His large collection included only a handful of pieces from antiquity, so it’s interesting that these jugs in particular caught his eye.
The paper slips, while not in the best condition, clearly link the jugs to the collections of the Cesnola brothers. The name of Cesnola is well known, not to say notorious, in connection with Cypriot antiquities, principally due to the activities of Luigi Palma di Cesnola. He was both American and Russian Consul in Cyprus from 1865, and was relentless in his acquisition of antiquities. Scholars describe his activities with a greater or lesser degree of circumspection, but it’s pretty clear that during his eleven years on Cyprus he systematically looted vast numbers of tombs with scant regard for record-keeping, even resorting to falsification to magnify the impact of his finds. He later became the first director of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, where a significant portion of his collection still remains.
Alexander Palma di Cesnola, though not approaching the fervour of his brother, was also a keen collector. He undertook excavations mainly at Salamis from 1876 to 1879, sponsored by his father-in-law Edwin Lawrence, and amassed a considerable haul of antiquities. The Lawrence-Cesnola collection was sold at Sotheby’s between 1883 and 1892.
The sales catalogues describe the pottery in general terms, too vague to identify which lot these jugs belonged to. However, A.P. di Cesnola also published part of his collection in a lavishly illustrated album.
This shows that jugs of this style were certainly included (see the fifth from the left on the bottom row).
Indeed, similar jugs are known to have been bought from the Cesnola sales by the eminent Victorian collector Lt.-General Pitt Rivers.
Unfortunately, there is a missing link between Mr Hollings and the Lawrence-Cesnola sales (assuming both jugs came from this collection). The dates show that Mr Hollings could not have purchased them at the sales himself, since he began collecting around 1910; so he must have obtained them at second hand. I had high hopes that he would have recorded details of the purchase, as he kept meticulous records of his English ceramics, which greatly adds to the value of his collection. Sadly, if this information ever existed for his small collection of ancient pottery, it is now lost, as it does not appear in his extensive surviving ledgers. The excellent website of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford explores Lt.-General Pitt Rivers’ purchases from the Cesnola sales in detail, even listing every successful bidder at the sales. However, there is no name on the list which can currently be linked to Leeds or Mr Hollings.
Therefore, although these jugs are attested to have passed through A.P. di Cesnola’s hands, we don’t (yet?) know their whole modern history. The trail which started so promisingly has run cold for now; but there is always the possibility of a further clue down the line.