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.

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