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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The Society of Antiquaries

Last month I attended the annual Postgraduate Open Day at the Society of Antiquaries of London – a great opportunity to admire the stunning architecture of Burlington House on Piccadilly, and to hear all about the Society’s history, collections and archives.

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The Society of Antiquaries of London

The Society played a brief but significant role in the history of Cypriot archaeology. As I’ve mentioned before, in 1871 Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, British Vice-Consul on Cyprus from 1865-1870, presented a paper on his research to the Society, titled ‘On the different styles of Pottery found in Ancient Tombs in the Island of Cyprus’. This was eventually published in the Society’s journal Archaeologia, along with lithographic plates illustrating the objects under discussion. Some of Sandwith’s collection came to Yorkshire, and was exhibited and sold, creating interest in ancient Cyprus which spread through the region. (In fact, I’ve just had a paper published on this!).

I was delighted to have the opportunity to do a quick bit of research in the Society’s library at lunchtime, with help from the expert librarians – quite apart from the research opportunities, it’s an amazing place to work!

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View of the library, Society of Antiquaries

I drew a blank in finding out any more about the lithographs that accompanied Thomas Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper – I think it’s destined to be one of those minor but niggling research questions that don’t find an answer. However, it was thrilling to see the record of the meeting at which he presented his paper.

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Minute book entry © Society of Antiquaries

I was able to find out a bit more about another collector of ancient Cypriot objects, Mr Benjamin Kent, whose collection is now in the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate. I knew that Benjamin Kent had been a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and thanks to the Society’s admirable record-keeping, I was able to locate his nomination for Fellowship in 1939. This helpfully includes a list of those who nominated him, which is really interesting in helping to analyse the circles he moved in and the contacts he made.

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Certificate of Candidate for Election, Benjamin Kent © Society of Antiquaries

None of the names are immediately familiar to me, so there’s more work to be done in tracing them. Under ‘Qualification’, the form cites his ‘valuable excavation work among Barrows in the West Riding of Yorkshire and on Roman sites’. This very much fits with my perception of Benjamin Kent; he was more of a hands-on explorer than an armchair antiquarian and collector, and interested in ancient objects mainly for what they could tell him of the past.

Both Benjamin Kent and his father were also Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, so I’m hoping there may be similar records available there. In addition, some of Kent’s papers have recently been accessioned into Special Collections at the University of Leeds library, as part of the Yorkshire Archaeology Society collection. I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the background to his ancient Cypriot collection, other research projects permitting!

The art of the lithographer

Having spent a lot of time lately thinking about reading about writing, it made a pleasant change to get ‘hands on’ with Special Collections at the Leeds University Library and follow up some potentially relevant primary sources. The archives of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society are deposited in Special Collections, along with the Society’s library of printed books and pamphlets dating back to its foundation in the early 19th century. The library includes an offprint of T.B. Sandwith’s paper on ancient Cypriot pottery for the Society of Antiquaries, bound with several other archaeological papers. I’ll admit that I had hopes of an autograph dedication, or perhaps some helpful marginal notes by one of the LP&LS’s members – hopes which were not fulfilled. But it was nevertheless good to see the text in the original hard copy, in particular the amazing illustrations.

Amphora s

White Painted amphora, Archaeologia XLV Pl.XII

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Bichrome stamnos, Archaeologia XLV Pl.XII

It’s probably safe to assume that this copy of the Archaeologia paper was not thumbed over extensively by LP&LS members, since the pages are fresh and the illustrations clear and bright. The skill that has gone into representing the ancient Cypriot artefacts is remarkable, and puts the standard of illustration in some modern archaeological publications to shame.

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White Painted jug, Archaeologia XLV Pl.X

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Black on Red jug, Archaeologia XLV Pl.IX

The drawings are particularly effective at capturing the geometric patterns on amphorae and jugs; you can tell that the artist has studied the objects closely and has taken great pains to convey their decoration accurately. Arguably these drawings are less successful at capturing objects whose shapes do not lend themselves to two-dimensional reproduction, but even so, it’s easy to recognise individual pieces from their portraits.

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Triple juglet, Archaeologia XLV Pl.IX 

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Triple juglet (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries

From my limited understanding of the lithographic process, it appears that an artist would have made careful drawings of the objects, which would then have been engraved onto plates, and coloured as part of the printing process. This is where a potential Leeds link comes in. As previously noted, most of the drawings were made from objects included in the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures in Leeds. The plates are labelled ‘del. C.H.R.’, an abbreviation for ‘delineauit’, i.e. ‘drawn by’ – so ‘C.H.R.’ made the drawings from which the engraver, named as C.F. Kell, worked. Kell appears to have been part of the firm of ‘Kell Bros.’, prolific ‘chromolithographers’ who did quite a bit of work for the Society of Antiquaries.

So, did the Society of Antiquaries take the trouble and expense to send a skilled draughtsman from London to Leeds to make drawings of the objects on display at the Yorkshire Exhibition? Or was it the work of a local professional? Efforts to discover the answer have not been successful as yet; it’s one of those intriguing footnotes to a research project that will probably remain unresolved.

Thomas Backhouse Sandwith and the triple juglet

(A version of this post previously appeared on the Leeds Museums and Galleries ‘Secret Lives of Objects’ blog – well worth a visit.)

Much of the collection of Cypriot antiquities which now belongs to the Leeds City Museum was formed under the auspices of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, established in 1819 and still going strong. The 19th century activities of the ‘Leeds Phil and Lit’, its members and the curators of its museum are hugely impressive, and help explain how Leeds came to have such an impressive City Museum.

The Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s museum was enriched in 1876 by the purchase of Cypriot ceramics collected by Thomas Backhouse Sandwith. Sandwith was the British Vice-Consul in Cyprus from 1865, and during his time on the island he developed a deep interest in its history and culture. He amassed a considerable collection of artefacts, some of which he brought to England. Unusually for the time, as well as collecting he also studied the ceramics in some depth, and eventually published an article in Archaeologia (the journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London), ‘On the different styles of Pottery found in Ancient Tombs in the Island of Cyprus’ (1877).

This article includes beautifully detailed hand-drawn illustrations of some of Sandwith’s finds, by one of the Society of Antiquaries’ skilled draughtsmen.

Plate IX of Sandwith’s ‘Archaeologia’ article

In fact, it appears we owe these illustrations to Sandwith’s decision to participate in  the Leeds Exhibition in 1875: a note on p.142 of his article remarks:

‘The delay in publishing this memoir has arisen from the small size of the sketches that accompanied it, which rendered them unsuitable for engraving. Advantage has, however, been taken of the author’s having sent a portion of his collection to the Leeds Exhibition, 1875, to obtain larger drawings from selected examples.’

The article is accompanied by only 26 illustrations of ceramics, and, unsurprisingly, the three vessels in the Leeds collection known to have been purchased from Sandwith are not along them. However, the triple vessel illustrated in the lower left-hand corner of plate IX (above) looked rather familiar:

Triple juglet, © Leeds Museums and Galleries

They are both examples of the intriguing composite ‘juglets’ which take the form of two or three small individual vessels joined together at the neck. The Leeds Museum juglet is made of blackened buff ware, consisting of three cone-shaped vessels joined in a single neck, with a central panel of punched decoration and one handle. This fits closely with the illustration to Sandwith’s article.

It seems at least possible that the Leeds Museum juglet is the same one collected by Sandwith and illustrated in his Archaeologia article. There are few additional ‘biographical’ details available; it could have come into the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s collection as part of the recorded acquisition, or perhaps could have been bought by someone in Leeds, and subsequently donated to the Museum.

The case for identity is strengthened by an article by R.S. Merrillees, ‘T.B. Sandwith and the beginnings of Cypriote archaeology’. Working from the illustrations to Sandwith’s article, he describes the juglet in question as:

‘…a unique Tell el Yahudiya acorn vase of a type not represented in [the standard] corpus… obviously an import and can be dated to M.C. III or L.C. I between the seventeenth and the sixteenth centuries BC.’ (Merrillees, p.224).

If the type of the juglet is rare, it seems the less likely that there would be two very similar examples. I like to think it’s the same one, and that my researches will eventually turn up the missing link in its history; we shall see!