Ah, Vienna

In May I fulfilled a long-held ambition to see the ancient Cypriot collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, as the highlight of a whirlwind visit to the city. The building in which the Museum is housed is truly spectacular, and merits a visit on its own account.

Interior

Interior of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

An outer room featuring large-scale limestone statuary leads into a gallery filled with ceramics and smaller terracottas; what first caught my eye were these wonderful Late Cypriot Base Ring figurines.

Base Ring figurines s

Base Ring figurines © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

I particularly liked these askoi in the shape of a stag and a non-specific animal – the tail should give a clue, but I can’t quite place it.

Stag askos s

Askos in the shape of a stag © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Animal askos s

Animal-shaped askos © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

There were also fantastic White Painted vessels such as this one, in amazingly good condition, with multiple tiny loop-holes, for string? It’s difficult to picture how it might have been used.

String loop vessel s

White Painted string loop vessel © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

I was also very taken by this bird-shaped askos – it does have the appearance of a sitting bird protecting its nest (though there is definitely something pie-shaped about it as well – reminscent of RAMM’s ‘Devon pasty chicken’).

Bird form askos s

Bird-shaped askos © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

There were plenty more birds on view – from a rather rotund example on a Bichrome pyxis to an elegantly striped long-legged waterfowl on a White Painted jug which itself resembles a bird.

Painted bird s

Bichrome painted bird © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Waterfowl

Bird on White Painted jug © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This Proto-White Painted Ware askos is more conventionally duck-shaped, and is quacking with its body angled forward on webbed feet.

Bird askos

Bird-shaped askos © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Some of the terracotta groups were also enchanting, such as this Cypro-Archaic scene showing a baker’s dog taking a close interest in the baked goods.

Baker s

Terracotta group of baker and dog © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This Cypro-Archaic figurine is very helpful in interpreting a fragmentary figurine from the Leeds City Museum collection. The object held by the LCM figurine is broken, but we can be fairly confident that it is a small animal like the one below, and not a hide, as has been suggested.

Cypro-Archaic figure s

Cypro-Archaic figurine holding a small animal

LCM figurine s

Cypro-Archaic figurines from Leeds City Museum. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

I’ve been giving some thought lately to ancient Cypriot figurines and the most effective ways of displaying them. It was interesting to see this fragmentary figurine displayed with a modern reconstruction of the lower part of the body; I’m not sure how recent this reconstruction is. It does help to give a clearer idea of how the figurine would have appeared, but could it be perceived as misleading? There are several different approaches to displaying fragmentary figurines in this case – some unmounted, some on small wooden plinths, and the central figurine, with its large kalathos, having some of its original stature restored by a perspex mount.

Figurines s

Display of terracotta figurines © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Overall, the gallery was very impressive; as befits a museum of art history, the objects are all beautiful as well as fascinating. The background lighting in the gallery is low, with individual objects brightly lit, and the colour scheme is red – the overall effect is quite dramatic, with the objects casting strong shadows, as can be seen above. I’m reminded of L.P. di Cesnola’s 1872 display of his collection at G.L. Feuardent’s on Great Russell Street in London: he wrote

‘The walls at my request have been painted dark red with pedestals and shelves of the same color and the statues make a grand and striking aspect indeed’.¹

The Kunsthistorisches Museum has a fantastic website with much better photos than these, and all kinds of additional information, which is well worth a virtual visit – see Room 1 of the Antikensammlung for the ancient Cypriot collection. Next on my list is the Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm, though it might take me a while to get there!

¹ Quoted by O. Masson (1992) ‘Diplomates et Amateurs d’Antiquités à Chypre vers 1866-1878’, Journal des savants pp.123-154 (p.147).

 

 

 

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Six degrees of Cypriot separation

I had a wonderful time last Monday working with photographer Simon Miles to record the Kent ancient Cypriot collection at the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate, for the Cyprus Institute’s digital archive project. This gave me the opportunity to delve into the collection and see objects I had previously only read about in Benjamin Kent’s handwritten register; it was fascinating to see the ‘cone-like projection’ and ‘horn-like scrolls’ in real life!

As well as incorporating diverse, beautiful and intriguing objects, this collection is particularly rich in hints and clues to the objects’ itineraries – their journeys through time and space that have ended (for the time being) in the Gallery. It’s not uncommon to find a label or a note tucked inside an object with tantalising information about its previous movements. This was my experience last week.

White Painted jug

White Painted jug © Mercer Art Gallery

A White Painted jug from the Cypro-Geometric period has a label reading ‘Amathus’, and also a label pasted inside its rim: ‘Painted Vase Early Phoenician [indistinct] From [?Gen.] Cesnola Collection [?obtained from] from excavations in Cyprus. From Park Hill.’ Benjamin Kent’s register also notes for this jug, ‘Lawrence/Cesnola; Sir Theo Fry’s collection’.

Label

Label on the White Painted jug © Mercer Art Gallery

These labels and records provide a rich source of information for the jug’s collection history. The Lawrence/Cesnola reference is fairly easy; Alessandro Palma di Cesnola, Major di Cesnola, the younger brother of the more notorious Luigi, carried out extensive digging and collecting activity in Cyprus, with financial support from his father-in-law, E.H. Lawrence (hence ‘the Lawrence/Cesnola collection’).  Many of the objects thus obtained were sold at Sotheby’s in four sales from 1883 to 1892.

Sir Theodore Fry (1836-1912) is also easy to identify; a very interesting collector in his own right, who deserves further discussion on another occasion, he collected Greek, Etruscan, and Cypriot pottery. We know from helpfully annotated auction catalogues, and from the collating work done by the ‘Rethinking Pitt-Rivers‘ project, that Fry bought from the 1883 and 1884 auctions of Lawrence-Cesnola collection. His own collection was sold at auction in 1905, and many objects from it are now found in the Kent collection in Harrogate.

However, this leaves ‘Park Hill’ to be explained. A little research revealed this to be the residence of John Wickham Flower (1807-73), a lawyer, archaeologist, antiquarian and collector. His widow donated a huge collection of 1,500 pieces, including ancient Cypriot material, to Oxford’s University Museum in 1882 after his death, and this was later transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum. Flower also bought from Cesnola sales, but those of the elder brother Luigi, General di Cesnola, on 1-2 May and 3 July 1871. These included objects from ‘Amathonta’, i.e. Amathus, where this jug is said to be from.

It therefore seems most likely, given the dates, that this jug was bought by Flower from one of Luigi Cesnola’s sales, then acquired by Fry – whether through a personal connection or at a sale – before making its way to the Kent collection. This would tie in with the label shown above, which claims the jug comes from ‘General Cesnola’s excavations’ – the younger brother would be described as ‘Major Cesnola’. Kent would then have been mistaken in attributing this jug to the Lawrence/Cesnola collection, the source of most of the other objects acquired from Fry – although given the multiple sales of Cesnola objects over a long period, and the interplay between the two brothers’ collections, some degree of crossed wires is almost inevitable.

A further degree of entanglement becomes evident when we consider the link between John Wickham Flower and Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, who had a huge impact on the dissemination of ancient Cypriot art in the Yorkshire area, as discussed at length on this blog and elsewhere. Sandwith wrote an important paper on his observations and deductions about ancient Cypriot material culture, which was published in Archaeologia, the journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London, in 1877. However, long before this, the paper was delivered at a meeting of the Society, on 4th May 1871. As the Society’s minute book notes,

‘In connection with this paper the following Exhibitions were laid before the Society:

Col. Lane Fox V.P. – Cypriote Antiquities from the Cesnola collection

J.W. Flower Esq. – Antiquities from the same collection.’

It seems likely that both of these Exhibitions were of the newly acquired antiquities from the Cesnola sale which had taken place just a couple of days earlier on 1-2 May 1871 (Lane Fox, who is of course Pitt-Rivers, also bought from this sale). There is a certain irony in the choice of Cesnola’s objects to accompany Sandwith’s paper, given the latter’s rather austere comments in his paper on Cesnola’s ‘untenable theory’ concerning the structure of ancient Cypriot tombs. Sandwith sent several batches of objects to Sheffield to be sold, and part of his collection was shown at the Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in 1875, where it sparked considerable interest in collecting ancient Cypriot objects; including among the Kents, whose collection also includes some of Sandwith’s objects from the 1875 Exhibition.

So, the itinerary of this object gives us some sense of the flows of Cypriot antiquities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the networks along which they travelled. Excavated by one of the Cesnolas in Amathus in Cyprus, the jug was sold in London, probably to Flowers, and joined the rest of his collection, where it may have formed part of the exhibition accompanying Sandwith’s significant paper on 4th May 1871. It then came to Fry, whether by purchase or gift, and eventually, after his sale, it joined the Kent collection, alongside many other objects originating from the Cesnola and Sandwith collections. We see how interlinked these routes are, and how through different generations of collectors objects came together and were disbanded. It’s also interesting to reflect on all the journeys which are lost, because the information wasn’t recorded (even in cryptic ‘Park Hill’ format) or because sale catalogue descriptions are too broad to be reliably mapped onto individual objects. Although it’s not in keeping with modern curatorial practices, it makes me thankful that earlier generations of collectors felt at liberty to inscribe objects with their routes via people and places, and that at least some of this information has survived.

Ancient Cypriot art at the Neues Museum, Berlin

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the ancient Cyprus gallery at the Neues Museum in Berlin. It’s a varied and interesting collection, with some truly outstanding individual pieces. It was largely brought together by Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, a near-contemporary of T.B. Sandwith in the early stages of archaeological exploration on Cyprus.

The building itself is architecturally interesting; built in the mid 19th century, it was badly damaged in the Second World War and has only recently been reopened, in 2009, after extensive reconstruction. Parts of the interior, including the Cyprus gallery, still have a semi-dilapidated feel to the decor; there’s an arresting juxtaposition between the antique feel of the modern building, and the vividness and freshness of the ancient Cypriot art.

Ancient Cyprus gallery, Neues Museum, Berlin

Ancient Cyprus gallery, Neues Museum, Berlin

The display itself is rather minimal in terms of exposition, with only the briefest information given on object labels, but fortunately the wonderful MAM Bookshop had been able to provide me with an English copy of the very full and well-illustrated catalogue of the Berlin collection.

Among my favourite objects was this Bichrome jug, where the exuberant design is carefully fitted to the curve of the pot. There’s nothing of this style in the Leeds collection, unfortunately; to me, they are among the most appealing and intriguing pieces of ancient Cypriot art.

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Bichrome jug
© Neues Museum, Berlin

I was also pleased to see some Base Ring juglets, always a favourite of mine, with snaky elements in the design.

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Base Ring juglets
© Neues Museum, Berlin

Possibly the most charming piece is this wonderful Red Polished jug/animal hybrid, originating from L.P. di Cesnola’s collection, with its four short legs, looping handle and spout ending in a flared rim; reminiscent of something from Oliver Postgate‘s imagination.

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Zoomorphic vase of Red Polished ware
© Neues Museum, Berlin

One object which intrigued me was this Base Ring single-handled lentoid flask, with a pinched seam  and decoration of multiple crossed lines of white paint. There’s a very similar flask in the Leeds City Museum collection, with an unusually good provenance; it comes from Klavdia, part of a 1902 donation from the British Museum from its 1899 excavations.  It would be interesting to know more about this flask, especially its provenance, but it doesn’t appear in the catalogue, and the label was not informative; I’m currently trying to track down a bit more information. [Update: the very helpful team at the Neues Museum inform me that the flask was part of Ohnefalsch-Richter’s collection, and the exact findspot is unknown. Ohnefalsch-Richter excavated widely in Cyprus and also bought extensively from dealers on the island, making it difficult to draw any conclusions about where this flask might be from.]

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Base Ring lentoid flask
© Neues Museum, Berlin

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Base Ring lentoid flask, from Klavdia, Cyprus
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

It was great to see such a well-preserved and varied collection, and so much better than just reading the catalogue; there’s nothing like the experience of seeing the objects in real life. And of course the Neues Museum has the advantage of being situated on the city’s Museum Island, within easy walking distance of the Altes Museum and Pergamon Museum – what better way to spend a day’s holiday?