From the cellar to the museum… and beyond

Thanks to the Leeds City Museum, the University of Leeds’ ancient Cypriot collection is finally on display for a larger audience – something I’ve wanted to happen for a long time. Until around December, a selection of the objects are being displayed in a new case in the Ancient Worlds gallery at the Museum. It’s been so interesting and educational for me to help the Museum’s curators to put together the display, from deciding which objects should be included, to designing leaflets, writing the interpretative panel text and labels, and placing the objects in the case. It’s great to see my Masters research put to practical use!

Display s

Display of University of Leeds’ ancient Cypriot collection at the Leeds City Museum

As long-term blog readers will know, this collection emerged from obscurity in the University’s cellars in 1913, shortly after the death of Sir Nathan Bodington, first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds. His widow, Lady Eliza Bodington, went to some trouble to ensure that the objects were assessed and appropriately placed, and the bulk of the collection has found a home in the Classics department ever since (a further portion was donated to the Leeds Girls’ High School, but its current whereabouts is unknown).

Thanks to the generosity of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, conservation work was carried out by the Leeds City Museum’s conservator a couple of years ago, revealing details unseen for a very long time, and stabilising the objects for the future. It’s great to see the collection now on display, so the results of this conservation can be seen by museum visitors, and something of the objects’ history – known and conjectured – can be explored. I’m planning to give a gallery talk on the collection and its background, and generally to make myself available for any questions – so if anyone wants to know more, do get in touch!

Leaflet front

Front page of leaflet accompanying display

The display is generously supported by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities, and as part of this it’s accompanied by a leaflet with background information for adults, and one with activities for children. I’ve really enjoyed exploring different ways of looking at the objects and thinking about them.

Children's leaflet cover

First page of children’s trail

I’m hopeful that this is just the start of the collection’s public engagements. After its stay at the Museum, it is due to move to a new home on display in the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the University of Leeds, where Classics is now located. This will offer further opportunities to explore the objects and their history, working with Classics undergraduate students.

I am reminded again of Eliza Bodington’s wishes in donating part of the collection to the Classics department in 1913, that ‘it might encourage a taste for archaeology in which my husband was so interested.’ I hope its current location among the archaeological collections in the Ancient Worlds gallery, and its future display at the University, will help to honour and fulfil this wish.

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Where did it come from? Part II: An Amathus connection?

As previously mentioned, the Leeds University ancient Cypriot collection came to light in the University’s cellars in 1913, where Lady Bodington supposed it had been overlooked since her husband, Sir Nathan Bodington, ordered it for a University fundraising event.

This may well have been the case; but there’s an alternative explanation, which might also help to account for another mysteriously overlooked collection. The British Museum sponsored excavations at Amathus in Cyprus in 1893-94, led by J.L. Myres and A.H. Smith. In 1895 the Trustees agreed to a proposal from A.S. Murray, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, to donate objects from these excavations to a range of museums, colleges and universities around the country. These included the Yorkshire College, Leeds, of which Nathan Bodington was the Principal. A letter from Nathan Bodington accepting the offer on behalf of the College survives in the British Museum’s archives.

The trail then goes cold; there is no record of the collection arriving in Leeds, or trace of it in the College’s annual record, although this generally gives full details of all donations. The Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society was often used by the Yorkshire College’s students, but again, the Society’s annual report makes no mention of any donation. This contrasts with the treatment of a further gift of Cypriot antiquities from the British Museum in 1902 to the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, which is written up in full in that year’s annual report.

Given this silence in the official records, it seems at least possible that the University’s collection is this same donation from the British Museum’s excavations in Amathus. There’s no way of knowing for sure; but there are a few factors which tie in with this theory. The collection covers the right timescale, from the Cypro-Geometric to the Roman period. Also, some of the pottery is decorated in a style typical of Amathus, with freely applied red and brown stripes and circles on a background of buff slip.

UNIV.1913.0013 Bowl with decoration typical of Amathus © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0013
Bowl with decoration typical of Amathus
© University of Leeds

There are also some parallels between surviving objects in the University of Leeds collection, and those of other museums and colleges who were sent donations from Amathus by the British Museum in 1895. That said, there are plenty of objects in those collections which aren’t reflected in the surviving University collection; for example, there are no figurines. However, Lady Bodington intended to give part of the collection to the Leeds Girls’ High School, and this may well have filled in some of the gaps.

The British Museum possesses Myres’ notebooks from his excavations in Amathus, which provide brief records of tomb contents, and illustrations of unusual pieces. These raise a number of tantalising possibilities; could the University of Leeds jug marked 292 be one of the ‘2 small painted jugs’ recorded by Myres in the tomb of that number?

UNIV.1913.0002 Jug marked '292' © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0002
Jug marked ‘292’
© University of Leeds

And could the unusual Punic one-handled jug, probably an import from Carthage, be the ‘jug of red clay’ illustrated by Myres from Tomb 291?

UNIV.1913.0033 Punic jug © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0033
Punic jug
© University of Leeds

Myres notesbook, Tomb 291 - '1 jug of red clay' © British Museum

Myres notesbook, Tomb 291 – ‘1 jug of red clay’
© British Museum

On the face of it, it seems unlikely; the British Museum donated duplicates, i.e. common items, to other institutions, rather than anything out of the ordinary; but there is certainly a similarity between the shape of the Leeds jug and Myres’ sketch.

Whether or not this collection originated from Amathus, it merits research and a higher profile, not least to honour Nathan Bodington’s contribution to the study of the ancient world in Leeds, which prompted Lady Bodington’s donation. Just over a century after its rediscovery, the collection is entering a new phase of its existence with new opportunities to ‘encourage a taste for archaeology’, in line with her wishes.

Where did it come from? Part I: The Case in the Cellar

Why does the University of Leeds have an ancient Cypriot collection? The answer involves some detective work, and hinges on the interests and networks of Sir Nathan Bodington, first Vice-Chancellor of the University. This part of the story begins just over a century ago, in October 1913.

Portrait of Sir Nathan Bodington by Arthur Hacker © University of Leeds Art Collection

Portrait of Sir Nathan Bodington by Arthur Hacker
© University of Leeds Art Collection

The University of Leeds’ archives record a visit made by the second Vice-Chancellor, Michael Sadler, to Lady Eliza Bodington, widow of Sir Nathan Bodington who had died in 1911, two years before. They enjoyed a gossip about University matters, and Lady Eliza raised the subject of ‘a very interesting collection of early pottery from Cyprus’. She explained how they came to Leeds:

“They were apparently ordered by Sir Nathan Bodington from a friend in Cyprus for the great University bazaar. They arrived late. The case was put in the cellar of the University and overlooked.”

Lady Eliza wanted to give part of the collection to the ‘Classical Department’, and the rest to the Leeds Girls’ High School. Her hope was that ‘they may be the beginning of a Classical Collection’ and ‘might encourage a taste for archaeology in which my husband was so interested’.

Letter from Eliza Bodington to Michael Sadler © University of Leeds

Letter from Eliza Bodington to Michael Sadler
© University of Leeds

The help was enlisted of Mr A. M. Woodward, newly appointed Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Leeds. He produced a list of the collection, 35 items in all, along with valuations (presumably for insurance purposes) ranging from 4/6 to 110/-. This list includes 19 ceramics, two figurines, one alabastron, seven pieces of glass, two of bronze, and four knucklebones, ‘well preserved’. His descriptions are rather broad, but the objects still remaining in the University’s collection can be mapped to his list with a fair degree of confidence. The remaining 11 items – some of the ceramics and glass, the figurines and those knucklebones – were presumably donated to the Leeds Girls’ High School in accordance with Lady Bodington’s wishes, although the school’s archivist has not found any trace of this donation.

Three of the ceramics were given to Mr Woodward in fragments, which he repaired and gave to be displayed and insured with the rest of the collection. He appears to have been very versatile as a classicist, publishing on archaeology, epigraphy, and numismatics, and ranging across the Peloponnese, Attica, and Asia Minor, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he was able to turn his hand to a competent repair of ancient Cypriot pottery, which has survived well to this day.

Bichrome dish repaired by A.M. Woodward © University of Leeds

Bichrome dish repaired by A.M. Woodward
© University of Leeds

Sir Nathan Bodington’s role in connection with these artefacts is entirely in line with his lifelong interest in the ancient world. He went to Oxford as an Exhibitioner in Greek, and took a First in Literae Humaniores, and, as a friend put it, ‘he remained to the last a true lover of the classics, and especially of Greece and its art.’ He was a member of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society for 25 years, and its its President from 1898-1900. He addressed the Society on subjects including ‘The Mycenaean Age in Crete’ and ‘The Story of Lanuvium’, and was instrumental in obtaining ancient artefacts for its Museum, including part of the Savile Collection of Antiquities from Lanuvium, still to be seen in the Leeds City Museum today.

Lanuvium marbles © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Lanuvium marbles
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

His interest in antiquity extended beyond the Society’s business; the Leeds Mercury for Saturday November 8th 1890 records him chairing a talk on the Parthenon Marbles at the Yorkshire College by the famous Classical scholar Jane E. Harrison, and also draws attention to his article in that month’s Macmillan’s Magazine on ancient Ventimiglia.  After his marriage in 1907, the couple toured extensively in the Mediterranean, often visiting ancient sites. In 1908 they spent two weeks on an archaeological dig at the Cawthorn Roman camps, and appear to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves:

“he was intensely happy living this simple life, and a junior member of the staff… discovered to [his] surprise that the holder of the dignified office of Vice-Chancellor could revel in a picnic holiday with a keen sense of humour and making light of all difficulties.”

(W.H. Draper, Sir Nathan Bodington: A Memoir).

Bodington himself collected a few ancient artefacts in Cyprus, which Eliza Bodington donated to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1913, after his death. Given this lifelong interest in the ancient world, it’s highly plausible that Nathan Bodington would have the contacts and interest to obtain an ancient Cypriot collection. His biographer emphasises the huge workload he laboured under, making it not implausible that a small collection like this, perhaps not seen as particularly valuable or significant, could have been overlooked on its arrival in Leeds.

However, I am not wholly convinced by the story of the ‘Grand University Bazaar’ as the reason for the objects’ purchase. Delving in the University’s archives has as yet failed to identify this Bazaar, although it might well be one ‘held under the auspices of the Student’s Athletics Union’ in May 1895, which raised the significant sum of £1,810 for athletics premises and equipment. It’s important to bear in mind that Nathan Bodington had died two years before the case in the cellar came to light, so no-one knew for sure what his intentions had been.

I think there’s another explanation for the University of Leeds collection, one which accounts for another set of mysteriously missing artefacts, and helps make sense of the dates, styles and markings of the objects which survive. More on this next time!