One of the most exciting outcomes of my research into the University of Leeds’ ancient Cypriot collection is the opportunity to give the objects some conservatorial TLC. They have now been transferred to the Leeds Museums Discovery Centre, where Emma Bowron, the Museum’s Conservator, is based. This has the added advantage of keeping them safely out of the way while the Department of Classics moves home over the summer, to join our colleagues in the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies in the Michael Sadler building.
Emma has now cleaned several of the ceramics, and I’m really pleased with the results. The colours of the clay and paint have come up clean and bright, and give a much better sense of what they must have looked like when newly made. Emma’s achieved these results using a steam cleaner, and it’s amazing how the accumulated dirt of centuries has lifted away.
The delicate banding on this alabastron is much more evident now, and it’s easy to see how the craftsperson who made it has worked with the features of the natural material to enhance its rounded shape with rings of colour.
These two plates, which were already striking, are even more so after cleaning. Their colours are fresh and bright, and the difference in the base colour of the plates is much more obvious.
One issue which I hadn’t anticipated is that the cleaning has revealed the restoration work done on some of the objects, such as the second plate above and this Punic jug, where the white infills are now clearly visible.
This raises the question of whether to paint the infills to mask the restoration, or to leave it as it is (or to add a new layer of grime to make the issue go away!). On balance, I think I prefer to leave the jug as it is. There is no surface decoration that the repairs might detract from in aesthetic terms; on the contrary, they are part of its history and it seems right that they are visible.
There are still some strange accretions on some of the objects, which look as though they have been lying in water at some point. Emma commented that these look like accretions from seawater, which is intriguing, as it’s not at all clear when or how this might have happened. This is one part of their history which will have to remain unknown.
The next step is to clean the glass objects, which I’m really excited about. Further photos to follow!