New light on an ancient lamp

Recently I’ve been working with Dr Sally Waite of Newcastle University on the Kent Collection at the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate.This is a large and varied collection of archaeological artefacts from a wide range of locations and cultures, assembled by two generations of the Kent family and bequeathed to Harrogate Council in the 1960s. Most interestingly from my perspective, it includes over a hundred objects from ancient Cyprus. The Kents do not seem to have acquired directly from Cyprus themselves, but to have bought from sales via dealers. They kept a register of their collection, which includes some information about previous owners, making it possible in some cases to trace the history of an object.

Sally and I are currently looking at the objects in the Kent Collection which previously belonged to Thomas Sandwith, the British Vice-Consul on Cyprus from 1865 to 1870. There are six which are recorded as having come from his collection, but the information in the Kents’ register has enabled us to add to this number.The Kent Collection register describes a simple ancient Cypriot lamp as follows:

“Lamp, open type, shallow bowl with flat base, and flat rim pinched abruptly, slit narrow, dia of bowl 3⅜”. Cyprus, Cudworth Collection.”

Cypriot lamp from the Kent collection © Harrogate Museums and Arts, Harrogate Borough Council

Cypriot lamp from the Kent collection
© Harrogate Museums and Arts, Harrogate Borough Council

There are several examples of this type in the British Museum. While its date is difficult to determine without any archaeological context, it probably dates from the 6th to 4th centuries BC.

As discussed in my previous post, Mr Cudworth published a guide to his collection which includes useful information on provenance. Looking at this guide, the lamp that best fits the bill is described as:

“Open lamp, shell pattern, rare (Sandwith Cyprian Collection).”

Cudworth’s term ‘shell pattern’ refers to the theory that this kind of lamp was based on the shape of Terebratula shells, often known as ‘lamp shells’ for this reason (a term that came into use as early as 1787, according to Samuel Pickworth Woodward’s A Manual of the Mollusca). Cudworth states:

“If we have not in the fossilised Terebratula the original design of the early open lamp used for domestic purposes, the coincidence is, at any rate, somewhat remarkable.”

His guide illustrates this point with a woodcut, which bears a marked resemblance to the Kent Collection lamp.
Woodcut of open lamp from the Cudworth Collection.

Woodcut of open lamp from the Cudworth Collection.

Cudworth records the lamp as being from the Sandwith Collection. There were no lamps exhibited at the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, from which many Sandwith objects were acquired by Yorkshire collectors, and it may well have been bought from the saleroom in Sheffield where the pottery was displayed for sale from 1870. No unified catalogue exists of the Sandwith collection (this would be a great project to undertake at some stage), but we have some additional information from Sandwith’s 1877 article on ancient Cypriot pottery in Archaeologia, the journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London. This includes a brief description of lamps of this kind:

“It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the better kind of pottery is found in all the tombs. The contrary is the case. Most of the graves contain but two or three common vases, either destitute of pattern or with the simplest designs… A common open lamp (see woodcut) of plain clay, on which no pattern or subject is ever represented, not unfrequently forms a part of the furniture of the deceased’s abode.”

Illustration of lamp from Sandwith's Archaeologia paper.

Illustration of lamp from Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper.

This is so similar to Cudworth’s illustration that I initially thought it was the same woodcut, but on closer examination there are a few small differences. It seems likely that Cudworth was familiar with the Archaeologia  piece, perhaps due to his interest in the Sandwith collection. As Sandwith discusses this kind of lamp in general terms, we can’t go as far as saying that the Kent lamp is the same one illustrated in the Archaeologia paper, but it’s certainly of the same type.

It’s interesting to see the different uses which have been made of this simple lamp by its previous collectors; Sandwith contrasts it with ‘the better kind of pottery’ as a common grave-good, while Cudworth is struck by its similarity to Terebratula shells, presenting this as a possible source of inspiration for its design. Today it is one of the less visually exciting objects surviving from the Kent collection (which includes some spectacular pieces), but it’s given additional interest by what we know of its relatively recent history.
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Ancient Cyprus at Museums Sheffield

Last week I had a hugely enjoyable morning investigating the treasure trove that is the Museums Sheffield store. Lucy Creighton, Curatorial Assistant in Archaeology, kindly hosted my visit and let me look through the ancient Cypriot collection and associated records.

It’s a stunning collection, with the majority of objects collected by the Rev. J. DeBaere, R.C. Chaplain at Limassol on Cyprus; not a name I was previously familiar with. Nearly two hundred of his objects survive in the Sheffield store, including this beautiful White Painted oenochoe decorated with eyes and stylised birds.

White Painted oenochoe with birds © Museums Sheffield

White Painted oenochoe with birds
© Museums Sheffield

For me, the most exciting objects in the Sheffield collection are the 31 pieces previously belonging to T.B. Sandwith. These came to the museum in 1897, purchased from a Sheffield saleroom. Was this the shop from which John Holmes bought some of Sandwith’s collection in 1869?

The records helpfully list the purchase price for each object, giving some idea of the market value of Cypriot antiquities at the end of the 19th century. These range from one shilling for lamps and small circular dishes, to 13/6 for a 9″ tall vase. This helps to put the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s purchase from the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition into context. They spent a total of £14.0.0 on Sandwith’s antiquities, but we don’t have a list of what they bought; given the Sheffield acquisition was almost 30 years later, there is certainly the potential for it to have been quite an extensive purchase. A Bichrome spouted jug with basket handle, very similar to one in the Leeds collection known to have belonged to Sandwith, was sold for the sum of five shillings.

Bichrome spouted jug © Museums Sheffield

Bichrome spouted jug
© Museums Sheffield

Bichrome spouted jug © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Bichrome spouted jug
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

One of my favourite pieces is this lamp showing a very small Cupid or a very large hare, apparently a common pairing.

Lamp showing Cupid and hare © Museums Sheffield

Lamp showing Cupid and hare
© Museums Sheffield

I also love the tail on this ‘eye’ jug; similar in shape to the Hollings/Cesnola pieces, but whereas their tails are neat and discreet, this is much more extravagant, looping boldly over the bands of decoration and finishing on the shoulder with a tassel.

Bichrome jug with tail © Museums Sheffield

Bichrome jug with tail
© Museums Sheffield

Bichrome jug with tail © Museums Sheffield

Bichrome jug with tail
© Museums Sheffield

Sheffield is fortunate to have this wonderful collection of Cypriot antiquities. It was great to have a look through these fascinating objects, which are not currently on display, and to come into contact with some more of T.B. Sandwith’s collection. There is more ancient Cypriot art in Yorkshire than you might think!

Progress with donors: Mr Joseph Hall

I’ve had a breakthrough with the mystery benefactor. It turns out that there are two donors of Cypriot ceramics with the surname Stott: Miss F.L. Stott, who made a bequest to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society around 1920, and Mrs Ethel Stott of Kirkstall, who gave several items, including this Cypriot jug, to the Leeds City Museum in 1957. The records had become confused, no doubt because of the coincidence of name.

Cypriot vessel donated by Mrs E. Stott
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Mrs Stott was the daughter of Mr Joseph Hall (1841-1905), who lived in Burley and later Kirkstall, Leeds.

Mr Joseph Hall

Mr Hall was a successful engineer specialising in machinery for the leather trade. The 1901 census records that his son was employed as an engineer and two of his daughters worked in the Engineer’s Office, indicating that it was a thriving family business. One daughter, Jane, is listed as ‘Art student’ and later became a sculptor, exhibiting at the Leeds Art Gallery. It’s not clear whether Mr Hall was a keen collector, or whether this jug just happened to take his fancy, but unusually we do have some more background information, as the bequest came with a copy of a letter from the vendor.

This was a ‘M.H. Verity’ of Whitby, whom I haven’t yet traced. His (or her) letter is worth quoting at length:

“According to promise I am writing to give you some information respecting the pitcher you bought at my sale as given by Mr Newton of the British Museum.

The pottery was dug from ancient graves at Dali in the island of Cyprus. It appears to be Phoenician or very early Greek. The Phoenicians were very early settlers in Cyprus and were succeeded by the Greeks, as they were by the Romans, and the period of the graves and contents are given by Mr Newton at from 300 to 700 BC. The digging has been under the charge of Mr Sandwith our Vice Consul, brother to the late Dr Sandwith of Kars celebrity, and the pottery sent to England to be sold for the relief of the inhabitants, who were suffering from famine.

The pottery is most interesting in an antiquarian sense, being as it was a link between the Prehistoric and an early Greek art.” © Leeds Museums and Galleries

‘Mr Newton of the British Museum’ must be Sir Charles Thomas Newton (1816-1894), Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum from 1862-1885, and also a key mover in the foundation of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. It’s not clear how he came to give his opinion on the vessel; was he acquainted with M.H. Verity?

Also intriguing is the reference to Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, which makes it probable that this vessel came to Yorkshire with the rest of his collection displayed at the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition (although there is no trace of an exhibition label). We know from his Archaeologia article that he excavated tombs at Dali (ancient Idalion), so this ties in. It’s interesting that there is a further mention of famine relief as the motivation behind Sandwith’s excavations and sales, which also came up in the ‘Visitor’s Guide’ to the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition.

It’s true that ‘dug from ancient graves at Dali’ doesn’t amount to much in terms of archaeological provenance, since we don’t know when, where and in what context this vessel was found. But the details in the letter help to paint a picture of the dispersal of Cypriot antiquities in Yorkshire, and the interests and priorities of those who collected them.

So what of Miss F.L. Stott, the original benefactor from 1920? Hopefully there’ll be more to tell another time…