Department of Antiquities

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Ancient Cyprus in the Ashmolean Museum

Ashmolean Presentation

Ancient Cyprus: Donors and Collectors

associated with the Ashmolean's collections from Ancient Cyprus

  Ancient Cyprus: Donors and Collectors
associated with the Ashmolean's collections from Ancient Cyprus
  The Ashmolean collections from ancient Cyprus contain material found or collected by many of the leading figures in the long history of the archaeological exploration of the island. Several institutions have also contributed to the collections. Some of the key donors and collectors are listed below.
General Luigi Palma di Cesnola
Cesnola held simultaneously the posts of both American and Russian consul in Larnaka from 1865. He spent much of his time on the island between 1865-1877exploring ancient sites on the island and amassing a vast collection of antiquities. As Russian consul he took most of his collection to London in 1872, although being forbidden to do so as American consul. He sold some objects to museums and private collectors, including General Pitt-Rivers (now in the Pitt Rivers Museum). The bulk of the collection was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Ashmolean did not acquire any material from Cesnola directly, but has acquired objects formerly in his collection from other sources, including gifts from John Ruskin and C.E. Fortnum.
Professor John Ruskin, Slade Professor of Art at Oxford
Supported Cesnola's 'researches' after visiting his exhibition of Cypriot antiquities in London in 1872. Cesnola gave Ruskin a variety of Cypriot antiquities, some of which he in turn gave to the Ashmolean. Professor R.G. Collingwood, whose father had been Ruskin’s secretary and biographer, donated other objects from this collection to the museum at a later date.
Cyprus Exploration Fund
Organisation founded in 1887 to conduct properly documented and scientific excavations on Cyprus in the interest of scholarship rather than profit. It conducted several excavations on a variety of sites during the 1880s-1890s, and some of the finds were donated to the Ashmolean as one of the sponsors of the work. One of the original leaders of the CEF fieldwork in Cyprus was D.G. Hogarth, later Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum.
Professor Sir John Linton Myres, Wykeham Professor of Ancient History at Oxford (1910 -1939)
Myres was the first person to research the history of Cyprus through controlled excavations. His first excavation on Cyprus was for the British Museum at Amathus in 1894, and some of this material is held by the Ashmolean. Most of his work was undertaken for the Cyprus Exploration Fund, and some material from these excavations was given to the Ashmolean. Myres presented the first chronological structure for understanding the history of the island in relation to the surrounding regions. He also advised the British administration in drafting an Antiquities Law, and in setting up a Department of Antiquities for Cyprus in 1935.
J Arthur R Munro
Munro was an archaeologist who worked in Cyprus, Montenegro, Albania and Asia Minor during the late 19th century, including at Salamis for the Cyprus Exploration Fund. His excavation diaries and site photographs were donated to the Ashmolean, and have been archived and preserved during the course of this project.
Hector Catling
Former Senior Assistant Keeper at the Ashmolean Museum (until-1971) and former Director of the British School at Athens. Distinguished scholar who conducted numerous excavations on Cyprus, and author of Cypriot Bronzework in the Mycenaean World, among many other works.

The first item from Cyprus to enter the Ashmolean's collections was not an antiquity, but was a sample of asbestos stone (Lapis asbestus Amianthus Cyprianus), which is recorded in a manuscript catalogue of the 1770s. This specimen was probably transferred to the University's "new" museum of Natural Sciences (now the Oxford University Museum of Natural History) in 1860.

The first acquisition by the Museum of antiquities from Cyprus was in 1873, when a collection of gold jewellery was purchased. Unfortunately no findspot or collector is recorded for this material.

The first Cypriot antiquities from a known findspot entered the Museum's collections the follow year (1874), when the Trustees of the Christy Collection presented 13 objects as a bequest. These included 11 Hellenistic statue heads from Dhali - but again were not associated with a specific collector.

It is hoped that the documentation work completed during this project will stimulate further research on the provenance and collections history of unprovenanced material from Cypus in the Ashmolean collections and thus enable objects to be attributed again to their exact place of origin.

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