The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

I love visiting museums on holiday, so couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco this summer. The Museum has an excellent collection of ancient art, particularly from the Mediterranean area, including some fascinating objects from ancient Cyprus. Louise Chu, the Associate Curator of Ancient Art and Interpretation, very kindly showed me round the collection, including a visit to the Museum’s storeroom – it’s always a treat to see behind the scenes!

The California Palace of the Legion of Honor – to give its full title – opened in 1924, and was founded by the philanthropists Adolph and Alma Spreckels as a museum of fine arts and a memorial to the Californian soldiers fallen in the First World War. The building is modelled on the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, and is beautifully situated overlooking the Pacific Ocean, though rather foggy on the day of my visit.

Legion of Honor s

The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

The ancient Cypriot objects on display are in the Ancient Art gallery, and include several pieces that were given to Alma Spreckels by the Queen of Greece in the 1920s, including this Late Cypriot bull askos.

Bull askos s

Bull askos © Legion of Honor

Also on display is a Cypro-Archaic Bichrome amphora with lotus-flower decoration, the gift of Dr Morris Herzstein. This bears a close resemblance to the amphora from Thomas Hollings’ collection on display in the Leeds City Museum, said to be from Amathus. The two are not identical – the shapes are different, especially the foot, and the decorative schemes vary – but it’s tempting to trace some family resemblance.

Amphora s

Bichrome amphora with lotus-flower decoration © Legion of Honor

 

Bichrome amphora from the collection of Thomas Hollings © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Down in the store, I very much enjoyed seeing more of the collection, including a delicate Black on Red juglet with an almost lustrous burnished surface – a technique which reduces the porosity of the clay, and therefore slows down evaporation of the juglet’s contents, possibly expensive perfumed oil.

BoR juglet s

Black on Red juglet © Legion of Honor

The highlight was this Red Polished zoomorphic jug, with incised decoration picked out in white, with a long spout, raised loop handle and a perky little tail. It seems to me somewhere between a duck and a pig, with its short legs and full-bellied shape. Unlike some fantastical ancient Cypriot vessels, this would have been quite sturdy and practical for holding and pouring liquids, as it stands firmly on its four splayed legs.

Red Painted jug s

Red Polished askos © Legion of Honor

I had a wonderful time at the Legion of Honor, and am very grateful to Louise for arranging my visit. I hope to return some day!

 

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I always think the Cypriot red polished ware is exquisite, particularly the plank-shaped figurines (eg at British Museum, Ashmoleum, Nat Museum of Denmark) & vessels with incised decoration. Do you know what was used for the black inlay on the juglet?

    Like

    • Thanks for your comment! I love the plank figurines too, they are so intriguing. The decoration on the juglet is black paint applied to the red-slipped surface; the precision of some of these designs is very impressive.

      Like

      • “Black paint”? I was hoping you could tell me what constituted this. I know (think!) the white inlay was often bone ash, or gypsum, (& maybe other organic materials, bound with sap?)

        Like

      • Yes, it’s definitely painted on the surface rather than inlaid. I don’t know the composition of the paint though. The white inlay on Red Polished ware is usually described as lime.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s