What’s in the collection?

I’m really enjoying researching the University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection, putting into practice the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from working with the Cypriot artefacts at the Leeds City Museum. At the moment, I’m focusing on identifying individual objects and trying to put them into context.

The collection consists of 24 objects: 18 ceramics, four glass and two bronze (no stone or precious metals). So far they appear to date from the later end of the Cypro-Geometric period, through the Cypro-Archaic and Cypro-Classical and down to the Hellenistic period, covering the span between 900 BC – 50 BC. This may prove to be interesting in terms of their provenance, if they are to be thought of as a group rather than a haphazard selection of objects (more on this another time). Many of them have suffered some damage on their travels, but are currently more or less complete pieces, thanks in part to some restoration work around a century ago.

The bronze objects are mirrors, and the glass comes under the heading of ‘unguentaria’, i.e. containers for perfumed oils. The ceramics consist of vessels in a range of forms, mainly jugs in a wide variety of shapes, ranging from 65mm to 200mm high. There are also a number of plates/dishes and bowls, and a pilgrim flask. The degree of decoration varies; some are decorated with paint in reds and browns (Bichrome ware), while others are plain. Several of the objects, including the pilgrim flask and the Black-on-Red ware juglet below, show Phoenician influence, which again may be significant in thinking about their provenance.

Black-on-Red juglet © University of Leeds

Black-on-Red juglet, late Cypro-Geometric – early Cypro-Archaic
© University of Leeds

I’m making some progress on finding comparators in other museum collections, and locating exemplars in the multi-volume Swedish Cyprus Expedition reports, which I’m extremely grateful to the Leeds University Library for purchasing many years ago.

Swedish Cyprus Expedition reports in the Leeds University Library

Swedish Cyprus Expedition reports in the Leeds University Library

Some, however, are a mystery at present, including this plain, elegant lekythos, which doesn’t look quite like anything I’ve seen before. I know its double is out there somewhere, it’s just a matter of tracking it down!

Lekythos © University of Leeds

© University of Leeds

So it’s a collection with some interesting consistencies: from a limited chronological period; with Phoenician elements; and mainly vessels, no figurines, sculpture or jewellery. The aim is to identify and properly describe each of the objects; then the next step is to look into how they came to Leeds, and the people behind their journey.