Amathus in Nottingham

As well as Leeds (if my theory is correct – see previous post), the British Museum sent objects from its excavations at Amathus to a number of other museums, public schools and colleges in 1895. According to a minute by A.S. Murray, these were:

Over the last few months I’ve been trying to track down these Amathus donations, with help from the organisations’ curators, who have been very generous in taking the time and trouble to further my research. I’d love to visit more of the collections in person (in particular, Dublin and Manchester are high on my list), but I was lucky enough to have a day trip to Nottingham last month to see the Amathus collection, kindly hosted by Rebecca Arnott, Collections and Access Officer.

First I made a visit to the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, impressively situated overlooking the city, and set in beautiful gardens – well worth climbing all the steps!

Nottingham Castle Museum

Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

I really enjoyed the Ancient Greek gallery, which was both fun and educational and got the maximum value from the Ancient Greek objects on display. But my favourite was the  ‘Every Object Tells a Story’ gallery, an inspiring ‘celebration of decorative art objects’ examining the stories behind them. This has much in common with my approach to the ancient Cypriot collections in Leeds. I loved the juxtaposition between a beautiful vase made by potter Magdelene Odundo, and three ancient Cypriot juglets and a figurine, which encourages new ways of looking at both the modern and the ancient objects, given more resonance by being displayed together.

Display of ancient and modern ceramics © Nottingham Castle Museum

Display of ancient and modern ceramics
© Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

But the main purpose of my visit was to go ‘behind the scenes’ and look at the objects from Amathus, which are not currently on display. My aim was to see if there was any correspondence between these and the objects in the Leeds University collection, which would tend to support the theory that they were originally from the same source.

There certainly were a few parallels. For example, both collections include small juglets of Black on Red ware, with neck-ridge and decorated with black bands on glossy red slip.

NCM 1895-23 Black on Red juglet © Nottingham Castle Museum

NCM 1895-23
Black on Red juglet
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

UNIV.1913.0011 Black on Red Juglet © University of Leeds

Black on Red Juglet
© University of Leeds

They also both have pilgrim flasks, of similar shapes and sizes:

NCM 1895-36 Pilgrim flask © Nottingham Castle Museum

NCM 1895-36
Pilgrim flask
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

UNIV.1913.0001 Pilgrim flask © University of Leeds

Pilgrim flask
© University of Leeds

This isn’t particularly surprising; both of these are very common types of objects, and probably feature in many collections of ancient Cypriot artefacts. One object I found more intriguing was this fairly crude clay bottle:

NCM 1895-39 Bottle of red clay © Nottingham Castle Museum

NCM 1895-39
Cylindrical bottle
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

UNIV.1913.0016 Bottle of red clay © University of Leeds

Cylindrical bottle
© University of Leeds

As the photos show, it’s not dissimilar to a bottle/jar in the Leeds collection, with a narrow foot, small, flat handles, and deeply incised scores at the neck. The Nottingham example is currently in several pieces; the neck (not shown) has roughly the same dimensions, and the same slight flare, as the Leeds bottle’s neck. I haven’t yet managed to identify the Leeds bottle; it’s not a typically Cypriot shape, and may well be an import. The presence of similar ceramics, slightly outside the mainstream, in the two collections may perhaps indicate that they come from the same source; or it could equally well be coincidence!

I really enjoyed my time in Nottingham and am looking forward to going back again – not least to further explore the Museum and Art Gallery, and quite possibly the café. My thanks to Rebecca for arranging my visit, and to all the other curators who have helped with this project.

What’s in the collection?

I’m really enjoying researching the University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection, putting into practice the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from working with the Cypriot artefacts at the Leeds City Museum. At the moment, I’m focusing on identifying individual objects and trying to put them into context.

The collection consists of 24 objects: 18 ceramics, four glass and two bronze (no stone or precious metals). So far they appear to date from the later end of the Cypro-Geometric period, through the Cypro-Archaic and Cypro-Classical and down to the Hellenistic period, covering the span between 900 BC – 50 BC. This may prove to be interesting in terms of their provenance, if they are to be thought of as a group rather than a haphazard selection of objects (more on this another time). Many of them have suffered some damage on their travels, but are currently more or less complete pieces, thanks in part to some restoration work around a century ago.

The bronze objects are mirrors, and the glass comes under the heading of ‘unguentaria’, i.e. containers for perfumed oils. The ceramics consist of vessels in a range of forms, mainly jugs in a wide variety of shapes, ranging from 65mm to 200mm high. There are also a number of plates/dishes and bowls, and a pilgrim flask. The degree of decoration varies; some are decorated with paint in reds and browns (Bichrome ware), while others are plain. Several of the objects, including the pilgrim flask and the Black-on-Red ware juglet below, show Phoenician influence, which again may be significant in thinking about their provenance.

Black-on-Red juglet © University of Leeds

Black-on-Red juglet, late Cypro-Geometric – early Cypro-Archaic
© University of Leeds

I’m making some progress on finding comparators in other museum collections, and locating exemplars in the multi-volume Swedish Cyprus Expedition reports, which I’m extremely grateful to the Leeds University Library for purchasing many years ago.

Swedish Cyprus Expedition reports in the Leeds University Library

Swedish Cyprus Expedition reports in the Leeds University Library

Some, however, are a mystery at present, including this plain, elegant lekythos, which doesn’t look quite like anything I’ve seen before. I know its double is out there somewhere, it’s just a matter of tracking it down!

Lekythos © University of Leeds

© University of Leeds

So it’s a collection with some interesting consistencies: from a limited chronological period; with Phoenician elements; and mainly vessels, no figurines, sculpture or jewellery. The aim is to identify and properly describe each of the objects; then the next step is to look into how they came to Leeds, and the people behind their journey.