Interlopers?

Among the Leeds City Museum ancient Cypriot collection are two juglets which are unlike anything I’ve seen before.

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Two juglets with incised decoration © Leeds Museums and Galleries

They’re quite small, about 10cm high, and they both have a globular body and narrow cylindrical neck and foot, with a single handle. They’re made of buff clay with a pale pinkish-buff slip, and have incised and punctured decoration – three sets of concentric circles on one, and a symmetrical abstract pattern in a marked-off field on the other. There are traces of glossy black paint in alternate sections of the complex decorated panels, as well as around the rims and feet, so they must have looked quite striking before it wore away.

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Incised and punctured decoration with traces of black paint. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

The thing is, they don’t look like any ancient Cypriot ceramics I’ve come across, in shape or decoration. This may of course be due to my limited experience, but so far I haven’t found any comparators from a Cypriot context.

The juglets provide us with one clue – they are both marked ‘Hs’ on the base, which is the identifying mark of John Holmes‘ collection.

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John Holmes’ mark. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

John Holmes was certainly a notable collector of ancient Cypriot ceramics, many of which are now in the Leeds Museums collection. However, he was very interested in cross-cultural comparisons, and also had ceramics from Mexico and Peru as well as from the Classical world. A hand-written catalogue of his diverse and wide-ranging collection accompanied its sale to the Leeds City Council; it came to the Museum directly from the Council rather than via the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, as with the majority of today’s ancient Cypriot collection. Unfortunately the catalogue entries are very brief and imprecise (not to mention hard to decipher), and only rarely offer any opportunity to identify an individual object. These juglets could conceivably be the two ‘Painted Peruvian Vessels’ recorded there, but there’s no way of knowing if that description belongs to these objects.

I wonder whether we should be looking elsewhere for the origin of these juglets, and whether they belong in the Cypriot collection at all. Any progress on answering these questions will be reported here!