Gone but not forgotten

Lately I’ve been thinking about Henry Crowther’s magic lantern slides of ancient Cypriot ceramics, and regretting those which no longer survive in the Leeds City Museum’s collection. These images are the shadows which remain of objects which have been lost, deaccessioned or destroyed.

For example, this lentoid flask with a single strap handle is marked ‘Enkomi, Cyprus’.

Lentoid flask from Enkomi, Cyprus. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Lentoid flask from Enkomi, Cyprus.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

This means it’s almost certainly the one sent to the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society by the British Museum in 1902, described by A.S. Murray, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, as a ‘flat-bellied flask of plain red ware.’

BM list

Extract from A.S. Murray’s note. © British Museum

There are two tankards, one with two bands of incised decoration and a thumb-grip, the other with a raised band below the lip and a simple loop handle. The colours are rather deceptive as they were added by hand by Miss Violet Crowther, Henry Crowther’s daughter, but suggest that both of these were of red ware.

Tankard with thumb grip and incised decoration. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Tankard with thumb grip and incised decoration.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Tankard with looped handle. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Tankard with looped handle.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There’s a dish with a small loop handle and painted decoration, which looks quite heavily restored, judging by the cracks and the gap in the pattern. The decoration looks like stylised Bronze Age helmets, though I’m not entirely sure…

Dish with painted decoration. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Dish with painted decoration.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There are also some lamps, including this three-wicked example; I particularly like the leaf-shaped projections near the handle. The vine-and-grape decoration, with a long-haired head in relief, presumably indicates Dionysus and perhaps suggests it was for use in a banqueting setting.

Lamp with triple wick. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Lamp with triple wick.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

I’m intrigued by the decoration on this smaller lamp, which seems to show an eagle holding an ear of wheat in its beak. I’m not very clear on the symbolism, but this may be associated with the god Baal; I haven’t seen anything quite like it before.

Lamp with ?eagle and ear of wheat. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Lamp with ?eagle and ear of wheat.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Most of these probably perished in the Second World War bomb, but it’s just possible that some may turn up one day; we know that there are quite a few objects currently with Artemis, the School Loans Service. I’ll certainly be looking out for them!

Henry Crowther’s lantern slides

For some time I’ve been trying to track down a collection of glass lantern slides of the Museum’s Cypriot pottery, taken at some point between 1893 and 1928 by Henry Crowther, then Curator of the Museum. Eleven have now come to light, and they provide a fascinating window on the earlier history of the collection.

Crowther image of Cypriot ceramics
 Leeds Museums and Galleries

Most of the Cypriot artefacts shown are still in the collection today, and it’s great to be able to witness this earlier stage of their history. These images were of course taken before the 1941 bombing, and some of them show artefacts which were later damaged. One of the most interesting is this bull askos, which has the figure of a small dog with long ears and perky tail perched on its handle.

Crowther image of bull askos  Leeds Museums and Galleries

I’m not sure, but I think it’s the same one as this askos currently on display in the gallery; still an appealing and intriguing piece, but much of the humour and liveliness has been lost along with the dog.

Bull askos  Leeds Museums and Galleries

One of the most striking things about these slides is that almost all of the images are coloured. The slides were taken in black and white, with each pot (and the background) carefully coloured in appropriate shades by hand. This is more successful at some times than others; the opiate juglet has a slightly strange marbled appearance, which is rather misleading.

Crowther image of opiate juglet  Leeds Museums and Galleries

This black-and-white slide, showing a bowl and a white shaved juglet which appear to be missing from the current collection, is more in keeping with modern aesthetics of ancient art, although, as we are constantly reminded, ancient Greek temples and statues would have been brightly coloured. The hand-coloured slides bring out the vividness of the Cypriot pots, which is a large part of their identity and appeal. It’s interesting that this colour was felt to be important for Mr Crowther’s late 19th/early 20th century audiences.

Crowther black and white image.  Leeds Museums and Galleries

Over at the blog for the Leeds University Museum of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Mark Steadman has written about the evocative quality of the magic lantern slides in that Museum’s collection. These images of the Cypriot collection help to put the age of the ceramics in context; the slides seem antiquated in the light of current technology, but in relative terms the images were taken only recently.

Henry Crowther, who took these images, was a hugely significant figure in the development of the Leeds City Museum.

1923 portrait of Henry Crowther.  http://www.leodis.net

He began work at the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 1875, had a stint away at the Royal Institution of Cornwall from 1881 to 1893, then returned and stayed until his eventual retirement in 1928 at the age of eighty. He was hugely enthusiastic and hard-working, constantly seeking and implementing new ways of improving the museum. Most significantly from the point of view of the Cypriot collection, he took the opportunity of buying for the Museum a collection of ancient Cypriot pottery after the close of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

The innovation for which, above all others, he will be remembered is the development and delivery of Schools Talks and Christmas Lectures on the Museum collections. The figures involved are amazing – over forty years he delivered lectures on a huge range of subjects to hundreds of thousands of children and teachers. His ability to make his subjects come alive was warmly praised:

“The reports from the Supervisors invariably speak in the highest praise of the Lecture, the beautiful slides and the large and varied collection of objects gathered by Mr. Crowther to illustrate the subject.” (Report of Council of LP&LS, 1915).

The Council of the LP&LS ensured that he was remunerated for his efforts, voting that he should receive half, then all of the profits accruing from the Schools Lectures. He himself was proud of their success, as evidenced by his letter of 1902 to Dr Murray at the British Museum, expressing thanks for a donation of Cypriot antiquities:

“We are always thankful for these recognitions by the British Museum and we, I may fearlessly say, do our best to teach the people their value. For eight years I have given Christmas Museum lectures, our average attendance being 250; last year I gave 20 lectures to 7,000 children and 250 teachers; we are to begin in October with another series to 10,000 school children; your kind gift is, therefore, an appreciable one to us.”

The fame of his lectures evidently spread, and he was in some demand as an itinerant lecturer, as this ‘Syllabus of Lectures’ shows.

Henry Crowther lecture syllabus

From this we learn that the colorist of the lantern slides was Miss Violet Crowther, Henry Crowther’s daughter, who was the first Curator of Abbey House Museum and its collection of ‘bygones’. It’s not clear which lecture the Cypriot slides belonged to; possibly the Christmas lecture for 1897, on ‘Pots and Pottery’. In any case, it’s good to know that around the turn of the century the Cypriot ceramics were reaching large audiences in and beyond Leeds, and inspirational to think of the opportunities technology affords to put them before even larger and more widely spread audiences today.