I love visiting museums on holiday, so couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco this summer. The Museum has an excellent collection of ancient art, particularly from the Mediterranean area, including some fascinating objects from ancient Cyprus. Louise Chu, the Associate Curator of Ancient Art and Interpretation, very kindly showed me round the collection, including a visit to the Museum’s storeroom – it’s always a treat to see behind the scenes!
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor – to give its full title – opened in 1924, and was founded by the philanthropists Adolph and Alma Spreckels as a museum of fine arts and a memorial to the Californian soldiers fallen in the First World War. The building is modelled on the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, and is beautifully situated overlooking the Pacific Ocean, though rather foggy on the day of my visit.
The ancient Cypriot objects on display are in the Ancient Art gallery, and include several pieces that were given to Alma Spreckels by the Queen of Greece in the 1920s, including this Late Cypriot bull askos.
Also on display is a Cypro-Archaic Bichrome amphora with lotus-flower decoration, the gift of Dr Morris Herzstein. This bears a close resemblance to the amphora from Thomas Hollings’ collection on display in the Leeds City Museum, said to be from Amathus. The two are not identical – the shapes are different, especially the foot, and the decorative schemes vary – but it’s tempting to trace some family resemblance.
Down in the store, I very much enjoyed seeing more of the collection, including a delicate Black on Red juglet with an almost lustrous burnished surface – a technique which reduces the porosity of the clay, and therefore slows down evaporation of the juglet’s contents, possibly expensive perfumed oil.
The highlight was this Red Polished zoomorphic jug, with incised decoration picked out in white, with a long spout, raised loop handle and a perky little tail. It seems to me somewhere between a duck and a pig, with its short legs and full-bellied shape. Unlike some fantastical ancient Cypriot vessels, this would have been quite sturdy and practical for holding and pouring liquids, as it stands firmly on its four splayed legs.
I had a wonderful time at the Legion of Honor, and am very grateful to Louise for arranging my visit. I hope to return some day!