‘Cyprus: Island of Copper’ at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield

Last week I took a break from drafting my thesis chapter on the 19th century roots of the Leeds City Museum’s ancient Cypriot collection, in order to visit the new exhibition at Weston Park Museum, ‘Cyprus: Island of Copper’.

Sheffield Weston Park

Weston Park Museum, Sheffield 

In fact, the Leeds and Sheffield collections have a lot of shared history; many of Sheffield’s objects came from the collection of T.B. Sandwith, of which a large part was placed on loan at Weston Park after 1875, then sold by the Sheffield auctioneers Nicholson, Greaves, Barber, and Hastings in 1897, in aid of Armenian and Cretan refugees. I would love to see the catalogue of this auction, as it would reveal so much about the spread of ancient Cypriot objects in the region, but so far my researches have drawn a blank – any suggestions would be very welcome! At any rate, it seems that the curators of Weston Park promptly bought back part of the collection for the Museum, where it has remained ever since. The other part of the collection came from the Reverend Julius de Baere, based for a while in Limassol; it would be fascinating to find out more about his collecting activities and networks.

I’ve seen some of the Sheffield collection in store before, and it includes some wonderful objects. It was great to see them in this thoughtful and interesting display, which conveys a lot of information in a relatively small space. I particularly liked the double-sided glass display cases which allowed an excellent view of both sides of the objects, and also let the sunshine illuminate the ancient glass.

Glass

Ancient Cypriot glass on display at Weston Park © Museums Sheffield

There’s a stunning example of Black Polished incised ware, made around 4,000 years ago – it looks so fresh and vibrant, having sat out most of the intervening years in a tomb. It’s very similar in style to the one illustrated in Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper.

Black Polished incised vessel

Black Polished incised vessel © Museums Sheffield

 

Sandwith article Plate IX

Black Polished vessel from Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper

I was very struck by this jug with a figurine holding an oenochoe – the same type as the jug from the Kent Collection which I discussed at the ‘Classical Cyprus’ conference last year, but a very different example. The figurine is large, clearly moulded separately and mounted on the jug with the aid of a step for her feet to rest on, and she’s holding the oenochoe almost at arm’s length. I don’t know how large the opening from the base of the oenochoe into the main jug is, but from the size of the oenochoe, it looks like you could pour at a reasonable rate; presumably for some kind of special occasion rather than everyday use.

Jug

Jug with figurine holding an oenochoe © Museums Sheffield

 

Side view of jug

Jug with figurine holding an oenochoe – side view © Museums Sheffield

Kent jug

Jug with figurine holding an oenochoe, from the Kent Collection, Harrogate           © Harrogate Museums and Arts

However, the use in ritual of this bull askos really stretches the imagination. It doesn’t look like it’s got an opening at the mouth, just at… the other end. At any rate, it looks like a sturdy beast, with a considerable capacity.

Bull askos

Bull askos © Museums Sheffield

The most surprising things for me were the jugs with faked inscriptions – I’ve never seen anything quite like this before! They’re really interesting in indicating the drivers of commercial value in the 19th century. As a rule, Cypriot ceramics were too easily accessible to make it worthwhile to fake them, but ceramics with inscriptions are a different story. Evidently there was a market of buyers who knew that inscriptions were important, but weren’t sufficiently clued up to recognise problems with the technique (the characters were incised after firing) and the loose approximations of ancient scripts.

Jugs with faked inscriptions

Jugs with faked inscriptions © Museums Sheffield

The exhibition was produced with the Sheffield and Peak District Young Archaeologists’ Clubs, and their responses to the objects were included in the display; a chance to see them from a fresh perspective, and a helpful reminder of how speculative and subjective much of our interpretation of ancient art has to be. Their artistic responses also demonstrated that time had been spent looking closely at the objects and experiencing them at first hand, encouraging the visitor to do the same.

Responses s

Responses to the Sheffield ancient Cypriot collection by Young Archaeologists’ Clubs © Museums Sheffield

I timed my visit to coincide with a lunchtime talk by Sheffield Museums’ Curator of Archaeology, Martha Lawrence, who gave lots of insights into the collection’s histories and the themes of the exhibition, including trade, metalworking, religion and burial, and writing. The objects have all been professionally photographed as part of the Cyprus Institute’s project on Cypriot Antiquities in Foreign Museums, which is providing a real impetus to make records of smaller collections available online.

The exhibition is on until April 2019, and I thoroughly recommend a visit – I’m hoping to go back myself for a second look!

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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!