The Cyprus Collections in the Medelhavsmuseet
The Ayia Irini group in the old exhibition
Article about the Cypriote exhibition 1989-2004
The Cyprus Collections in the Medelhavsmuseet are the largest and most important collections in the world outside Cyprus. There are corresponding collections in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and in the British Museum, but without an equal body of the vital information in the shape of scholarly documentation of find-context. Therefore the material is an inexhaustible research-source for scholars from all over the world. The finds from the Swedish Cyprus Expedition excavations were published in the Swedish Cyprus Expedition, Vols. I - IV:3, (E.Gjerstad et al., Sthlm and Lund 1934 -1972).
The Collections consist basically of finds made by the Swedish Cyprus Expedition (SCE) during the years 1927-1931. About 65% of the excavated material was assigned to Sweden by the Cypriote authorities. The total amount of finds from the SCE was about 18 000, of which Sweden received about 10 000. Nearly all this material is now in Stockholm, except for some tomb groups and statuettes, that the Expedition was allowed to either give away or sell to Swedish institutes or to persons who contributed to the funds of the Swedish Cyprus Expedition.
The collections include about 6000 Cypriote vases, ranging from Chalcolithic to Roman times and give a general view of the art and culture of Cyprus in ancient times. A very large collection of magnificent Red Polished pottery from the important necropolis at Lapithos, is eloquent evidence of the skill and imagination of the potters in the Early Cypriote period. Likewise grandiose are the much later Mycenean kraters or winebowls, the provenance of which has been so debated. These impressive and huge vases come from the rich tombs in Enkomi. Research on the kraters continues, both on the place of manufacture and on the remarkable decoration. The material is also comprised of bronzes, jewelry, glass and a large number of sculptures of stone and terracotta. The finds which show obvious connections with the Syrian region, and later Egypt and Ionia are of special interest. Of great importance is also the Hellenistic material, influenced by the sculpture in the artistic centra of Alexandria and Pergamon in Asia Minor. The development of the glass industry on the island is illustrated by the Roman glass finds from various periods.
Before the famous expedition took place, Crown Prince Gustav Adolf in 1925 received as a gift from the Swedish consul Luke Z. Pierides a collection of almost a hundred Cypriote vases from different periods. The majority of the vases were presented to the Museum of National Antiquities in 1926 and was later transferred to the Medelhavsmuseet. They now have inv.nr MM SHM 17946:1-97. About 30 vases were given to the National Museum in the same year and are now kept in the Medelhavsmuseet as a deposition. In 1926 a group of vases and 60 boxes of sherds from the Middle Cypriote period, were presented by Einar Gjerstad. This important material was found during excavations at Kalopsidha in 1923-1925.
Additional Cypriote material, acquired by the SCE during the years 1931 to 1954, was catalogued separately. Several vases were reconstructed from the extensive sherd material, collected by the SCE (ca 5000 boxes are kept in the museum). The majority is not published in the Swedish Cyprus Expedition. The pottery for the most part comes from Enkomi, but also from Lapithos and Ajia Irini. Numerous vases were found during other regular Swedish excavations on Cyprus, but are not published in the SCE. The material comes from Galinoporni, Kalopsidha, Lapithos, Marion and Milia. More than 300 Cypriote vases were further catalogued in the 1930´s. Most of them were gifts or purchases and some were stray finds from the Swedish excavations.
When the Medelhavsmuseet was formed in 1954, it was built on the material of the Cyprus Collections and the Egyptian Museum. The Cypriote material was from the beginning installed in the Oxenstierna Manor in Östermalm, where the administration of the Medelhavsmuseet remained until March 1982. The Cyprus Collections were from the 1940´s kept in the basement of the Museum of National Antiquities (Statens Historiska Museum) next door to the Manor. A few pieces of sculpture and pottery were included in the small Greek and Roman exhibition, arranged in Statens Historiska Museum until 1982.
In the summer of 1982, the majority of these collections was transferred to Fredsgatan, where the Medelhavsmuseet is now located. The store-rooms available in the new premises have not, however, space enough for the Cyprus Collections, part of which is stored outside the Museum building. The present exhibition only shows a very small part of the Cyprus Collections, while the rest is kept in store-rooms.
For the first time the Museum now has a permanent Cypriote exhibition, where a sequence of showcases demonstrates the historical development of Cyprus in ancient times. The main theme in the exhibition is religion, which played an important part in Cypriote life at all periods in antiquity. This is borne out by the sanctuaries and finds from Early Cypriote period and onwards.
Cypriote sanctuaries produce many votive offerings; most common are terracottas in human and animal shape. By the Late Cypriote times one has on the one hand the monumental temples of the towns (Enkomi, Kition, Palaipafos) and on the other the more modest cult centres of provincial inland settlements. This distinction is seen even more clearly during the Iron Age, exemplified by finds from Ajia Irini and Kition, excavated by the Swedish archaeologists. The sanctuary at Ajia Irini is characteristic of the rural cult, based on the worship of a divinity of fertility, found in various parts of the island. The god of Ajia Irini was further connected with cattle and war.The finds belong to the Cypro-Geometric and mostly the Cypro-Archaic periods. Sweden received ca 1000 of the 2000 terracottas, found by the Swedish archaeologists at the temenos of Ajia Irini. The main part of them are now exhibited as they were found, grouped around the cult stone, believed to have inherent powers of fertility.
The Cypriote exhibition also includes limestone sculpture from the important city of Kition, where the Phoenicians built a sanctuary to Herakles-Melqart in the 9th century B.C. The ancient Kitians dedicated votaries in limestone to their god, and the sculpture is quite different when compared to the small terracottas from Ajia Irini, made in the "snowman" technique.The cult at Kition probably was of a more official character, and the sculpture is more sophisticated, showing influences from both Egypt, Ionia and mainland Greece.
Several statuettes represent Melqart himself, the patron-god of Kition, dressed in the lionskin and swinging the mace. Others show female and male votaries with offerings in their hands (a bird or goat) or the hand raised in adoration.
Some of the sculptures from the sanctuary of Apollo and Athena at Mersinaki are also exhibited. They are made of limestone or mouldmade terracotta and show a large variety of styles and date from ca 500-150 BC. Famous is the statue of a youth from Mersinaki, somewhat larger than lifesize and in pale yellow limestone. He has weak features and a somewhat dreamy gaze. Quite different are the imposing lifesize terracotta statues, also from Mersinaki. They stand like guards along the wall, protecting the votaries and visitors of the exhibition. The statues are all men with broad shoulders and stiff attitude. They wear the Greek chiton and himation and their curly hair and beard are arranged in a Greek fashion, but their frontal position and severe expression are Cypriote. Some of them wear large boots.
Another basic idea with the Cypriote exhibition is to show important items of the collection, never exhibited before; i. e. limestone sculpture from Kition. Some life-size statues in limestone are never published or exhibited before. They are made in the Archaic Cypro-Greek and Cypro-Hellenistic style and of unknown provenance, but may derive from eastern Cyprus.
Additional space is devoted to a reconstruction of a family-sepulchre from the Early Cypriote period (ca 1900 B.C.), equipped with Red Polished pottery and bronze objects.
A large showcase reminds the visitor of the importance of the rich Cypriote copper mines, exploited from ancient to modern times. Large swords and small daggers of red arsenic copper or yellow bronze, were found in a necropolis near Lapithos. They were manufactured c. 2000-1800 f Kr. The weapons are exhibited together with a unique splint armour from the 6th century B.C. 6800 iron splints formed the body of the armour and were laced or sewn on a lining of probably cloth or leather. The cuirass was found close to a sanctuary at Idalion, dedicated to the goddess Anath-Athena.
Last, but not least, the exhibition gives a survey of the historical and cultural development of Cyprus over a period of about 6000 years. In 15 show-cases, stone, pottery, metal and glass are exhibited.
The black and red design of the Cypriote exhibition is meant to give an idea of the elegant Bichrome technique, used in decorating both the pottery and the terracottas of ancient Cyprus. The blue colour of the background in the huge Ajia Irini showcase, invokes the blue sky over the open-air sanctuary.
It is necessary to keep a correct and constant climate in showcases and store-rooms where terracottas and pottery are kept. The relative humidity (RH) should not exceed 55% or fall below 45 % and the variations have to be restricted to a minimum, i.e. not more than 5 %. This is extremely important since the pottery from the Mediterranean countries contain large amounts of destructive salts.
This has been successfully attained in the large Ajia Irini showcase, constructed by Jan Polasek who is the designer of the Cypriote exhibition in collaboration with myself. In the Cypriote store-room, directly below the exhibition, there is a construction, regulating the RH to be maintained at about 55 %. This construction is connected with the Ajia Irini showcase via large tubes, thus also controlling the RH in
Work on the SCE finds didn´t stop when excavations were over. Scholars are still working with the material, studying the material, plans, drawings, diaries and photos. Scholars and students regularly visit the Cyprus collections. They come from all over the world and study the finds from different aspects. The immense pottery collection is most frequently studied, but also the sculpture and the rich metal finds from the Lapithos tombs.
One student examined the objects from some tomb groups in order to study the development of the social hierarchy in LBA Cyperus, as refected by differences in tomb constructions and grave goods. Other well-known scholars have sampled iron artifacts from different sites, for metallography and elemental analysis for a study of the beginning of iron metallurgy in Cyprus. A majority of the BA bronzes have been sampled for lead isotope analysis.
A recent study has been made of the votive material from various Archaic sanctuaries on Cyprus, found by the SCE, and still in part unpublished. The study was widened into an interdisciplinary project combining archaeological observation with scientific analysis. One of the main objectives was information about the technological aspects of the terracottas. One of the most remarkable contributions is the restudy of the plans, drawings and sherd-material from the excavations at Nitovikla, which resulted in a re-dating of the fortress.
The archives from the SCE at Medelhavsmuseet consist of original drawings,plans and photos, now published in the SCE. The main part of the plans and diaries are still available, and often used by scholars. Very important is also the collection of the old 10.000 negatives, which are regularly used. The main part is made of glass, and most of them are still in an almost perfect condition. There are existing copies of most of the negatives and they depict various motifs. The majority naturally are from sites, excavations and the finds. But a most interesting and charming part of the photos represent people and places from different parts of Cyprus. You can find beautiful houses and magnificent topography, now lost for ever. Other motifs are archaeologists and workers dancing and resting together or preparing parties. Many photos give an informative picture of the archaeologists´daily life 60 years ago. Old-fashioned metods in agriculture and camel-caravans are often depicted.
There are many photos of the first volvo, manufactured 1927 and given to the SCE.
Marie-Louise Winbladh, curator of the
Cyprus Collections 1971-2001