New discoveries from the Educational Resource Service

Two years ago I mentioned here that I had come across an old catalogue for the Educational Resource Service, which included some ancient Cypriot objects. Very excitingly, a few of these have now come to light at the University, having been long overlooked in storage. They include some Greek pieces, and three which are Cypriot – a stemmed bowl, an amphora, and this fantastic horse and rider.

Horse and rider figurine © University of Leeds

Horse and rider figurine
© University of Leeds

To me, this represents some of the best qualities of ancient Cypriot art. The modelling is very impressionistic, even crude, but it has an indefinable energy and vigour. I love the way the horse is leaning backwards, as though pulling up suddenly from a headlong charge.

Horse and rider figurine © University of Leeds

Horse and rider figurine
© University of Leeds

The rider’s pose, with right hand raised, is fairly unusual; it’s probably meant to represent some kind of martial gesture, and he may once have held a spear made of a different material. The horse’s harness and tack are elaborate, and include a fringed breastplate which may represent a ‘fly apron’, attested in images of horses in warfare from the Near East (Crouwel J. and Tatton-Brown V., ‘Ridden horses in Iron Age Cyprus’, RDAC 1988).

There are numerous examples of ancient Cypriot horse and rider figurines, some from tombs but many known to be from sanctuaries, where they would have been votive offerings. Unfortunately contextual information, including findspot, is largely lacking for these ERS objects at the moment, though I have hopes of uncovering a little more.

The objects’ recent history, as art objects for temporary loan to schools, is made evident by their presentation – mounted on plinths (sadly, probably glued down) and wired into Perspex boxes, contained within custom-fitted wooden cases labelled with ERS codes and descriptions.

Case for ERS objects

Case for ERS objects

The Cypriot objects formed part of a wider collection on Ancient Greece, also incorporating modern replicas and ‘backdrop’ photographs on boards – see the sample layout from the ERS catalogue below, with the horse and rider on the left. I wonder whether their distinctively Cypriot heritage was understood by the schools that borrowed them and the pupils that viewed them?

Illustration from ERS catalogue

Illustration from ERS catalogue

The Educational Resource Service began as the West Riding School Museum Service in the 1940s, which was led by Sir Alec Clegg, Director of Education, and reached its full potential steered by Eric Woodward as Senior Advisor between 1956 and 1985. You can read more about its history on Natalie Bradbury’s ‘Pictures for Schools’ blog here. It must have been a wonderful resource for local schools, a treasure trove of inspiring objects arriving regularly in their custom-made travelling cases. Eric Woodward was kind enough to discuss the Cypriot objects with me, and recalls that they may have been British Museum duplicates, or acquired at auction. It’s quite possible that pieces such as this could have been picked up at a relatively low price. The figurine and amphora have both been broken and repaired; this damage may have been part of their history in schools, or may have made them more affordable to buy for the collection.

Much of the information about their earlier history is probably lost now, but I have a few leads to follow up. Wakefield Museum have the original ERS accession register in their archives, which I shall consult. They also have a couple of further Cypriot pieces from the collection (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Bichrome krater or the jug to the rear of the illustration below).

Illustration from ERS catalogue

Illustration from ERS catalogue

What comes next for these ERS objects at Leeds is not yet clear. Perhaps a life outside the Perspex, and on display?