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?

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