The University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection

Recently I’ve secured some funding through the Cultural and Creative Industries Exchange at the University of Leeds, for a small project on the Department of Classics‘ collection of ancient Cypriot artefacts. This consists of 24 objects, not currently on display, including ceramics, glass and bronze. I’m delighted to be spending some time on this interesting and unpublished collection, and will be blogging about it over the next few months.

Bronze mirror © University of Leeds

Bronze mirror from Cyprus
© University of Leeds

I’ll be working with Leeds Museums and Galleries and the British Museum to explore the collection, starting by examining each object and trying to ‘place’ it in stylistic and chronological terms. The collection is in need of some conservation attention, so I’ll be trying to find a source of funding for that. I’ll also be looking into the more recent collection history; as ever, this is something I find fascinating. My work so far suggests that there are stories to be uncovered behind this group of objects and their route to Leeds, involving the shared history of University and Museum in the late 19th/early 20th century. More to follow!

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Ancient Cypriot art at the Neues Museum, Berlin

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the ancient Cyprus gallery at the Neues Museum in Berlin. It’s a varied and interesting collection, with some truly outstanding individual pieces. It was largely brought together by Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, a near-contemporary of T.B. Sandwith in the early stages of archaeological exploration on Cyprus.

The building itself is architecturally interesting; built in the mid 19th century, it was badly damaged in the Second World War and has only recently been reopened, in 2009, after extensive reconstruction. Parts of the interior, including the Cyprus gallery, still have a semi-dilapidated feel to the decor; there’s an arresting juxtaposition between the antique feel of the modern building, and the vividness and freshness of the ancient Cypriot art.

Ancient Cyprus gallery, Neues Museum, Berlin

Ancient Cyprus gallery, Neues Museum, Berlin

The display itself is rather minimal in terms of exposition, with only the briefest information given on object labels, but fortunately the wonderful MAM Bookshop had been able to provide me with an English copy of the very full and well-illustrated catalogue of the Berlin collection.

Among my favourite objects was this Bichrome jug, where the exuberant design is carefully fitted to the curve of the pot. There’s nothing of this style in the Leeds collection, unfortunately; to me, they are among the most appealing and intriguing pieces of ancient Cypriot art.

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Bichrome jug
© Neues Museum, Berlin

I was also pleased to see some Base Ring juglets, always a favourite of mine, with snaky elements in the design.

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Base Ring juglets
© Neues Museum, Berlin

Possibly the most charming piece is this wonderful Red Polished jug/animal hybrid, originating from L.P. di Cesnola’s collection, with its four short legs, looping handle and spout ending in a flared rim; reminiscent of something from Oliver Postgate‘s imagination.

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Zoomorphic vase of Red Polished ware
© Neues Museum, Berlin

One object which intrigued me was this Base Ring single-handled lentoid flask, with a pinched seam  and decoration of multiple crossed lines of white paint. There’s a very similar flask in the Leeds City Museum collection, with an unusually good provenance; it comes from Klavdia, part of a 1902 donation from the British Museum from its 1899 excavations.  It would be interesting to know more about this flask, especially its provenance, but it doesn’t appear in the catalogue, and the label was not informative; I’m currently trying to track down a bit more information. [Update: the very helpful team at the Neues Museum inform me that the flask was part of Ohnefalsch-Richter’s collection, and the exact findspot is unknown. Ohnefalsch-Richter excavated widely in Cyprus and also bought extensively from dealers on the island, making it difficult to draw any conclusions about where this flask might be from.]

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Base Ring lentoid flask
© Neues Museum, Berlin

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Base Ring lentoid flask, from Klavdia, Cyprus
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

It was great to see such a well-preserved and varied collection, and so much better than just reading the catalogue; there’s nothing like the experience of seeing the objects in real life. And of course the Neues Museum has the advantage of being situated on the city’s Museum Island, within easy walking distance of the Altes Museum and Pergamon Museum – what better way to spend a day’s holiday?

Aquila Dodgson and the Cypriot flask

The origins of the Leeds City Museum’s ancient Cypriot collection go back to 1870, but the most recent addition was accessioned in 2004, from a rather unexpected source.

Aquila Dodgson (1829-1919) was a Methodist minister who worked in connection with the Lancashire cotton spinning trade. He had a wide range of interests; he was President of the Leeds Astronomical Society in 1907-08, which published a portrait of him with its 1907 Journal ‘in appreciation of his great services’.

Aquila Dodgson

Aquila Dodgson

He was an antiquarian and numismatist, and a long-term supporter of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. He was elected honorary librarian to the Society in 1902, a position he retained until his death, and spent many of his later years compiling a catalogue of the Museum’s numismatics collection. The 101st Report of the LP&LS (1919-20) states:

For five years, day after day, members on entering the Curator’s Room would enjoy a short conversation with their courteous old friend and colleague whom they always found absorbed over his scholarly task.

However, Aquila Dodgson is best known as a keen amateur Egyptologist. He amassed a considerable collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts, though his interests also extended into more general ethnographic material. As his obituary in the Yorkshire Evening Post notes, ‘Mr. Dodgson was a great collector’. He corresponded with Sir Flinders Petrie and Amelia Edwards, founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, of which he was an early member, and obtained objects from them, some of which are now in the Leeds City Museum. He also visited Australia, and Petrie’s excavations at El-Amarna in Egypt. He donated Egyptian artefacts to the Museum in his lifetime, and more of his collection came by bequest in 1927, including ethnographic objects from the Loyalty Islands and Solomon Islands, as well as shabtis from Egypt and Assyrian cuneiform tablets.

Part of his collection was given to E. Raymond Hepper, a chartered surveyor from Leeds, by the Dodgson family in 1951. According to his son, F. Nigel Hepper, Raymond Hepper had been fascinated by the Egyptian artefacts as a small child. Nigel Hepper states that the benefactress was Sarah Dodgson, Aquila’s wife, but census records indicate that Aquila was married to Jane Dodgson who predeceased him in 1907, and the 1911 census records him as a widower at the age of 81; it seems unlikely that he married again. However the gift came about, in 2003-04 Nigel Hepper sold two items from this collection to the British Museum, and over a hundred objects to the Leeds City Museum, which had financial support from the LP&LS and the Heritage Lottery Fund (for more information on this acquisition, see Bryan Sitch’s recent post on the ‘Ancient Worlds at Manchester Museum’ blog). As well as this significant collection of Egyptian objects, including ceramics, shabtis, amulets, necklaces, and figurines, the acquisition includes just one ancient Cypriot flask.

Aquila Dodgson's Cypriot flask © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Aquila Dodgson’s Cypriot flask
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

The flask is of ‘Black-on-Red’ ware, probably from the Cypro-Geometric or Cypro-Archaic period (900-600 BC). It is of a Phoenician shape, standing 120mm high with a flat base, globular body, and two small handles from the shoulder to the characteristic ridge halfway up the neck, which flares sharply at the rim. It has polished orange-red slip decorated with bands of black around the neck and down the handles, and small sets of concentric circles on the shoulder between the handles on each side.

Unfortunately we don’t know exactly where this flask is from, or how it came into Aquila Dodgson’s possession. His brother James travelled extensively in the Middle East in 1882, including a visit to Cyprus, and visited his family in Yorkshire on his return, so it is possible that James obtained the flask and gave it to his brother. James assembled his own Egyptian collection, now at the University of Melbourne, and Christine Elias has written a fascinating thesis on its background, including Aquila Dodgson’s activities.

It’s fair to say that this Cypriot flask is a minor item in Dodgson’s collection, and probably didn’t attract a great deal of his attention; ancient Egypt and its material culture was his true passion. However, it’s good that it has found its way back to Leeds, to the museum whose collections benefited from his hard work and expertise in the later stages of his life.