Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.12.05 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.12.05

Craig Barker, Aphrodite's Island: Australian Archaeologists in Cyprus. The Cypriot collection of the Nicholson Museum.   Sydney:  Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney, 2012.  Pp. 73.  ISBN 9781742102870.  $19.95 (pb).  


Reviewed by Derek B. Counts, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (dbc@uwm.edu)

In March of this year, the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) in Nicosia hosted a three-day conference, “J.R.B. Stewart: an Archaeological Legacy”, to celebrate the life and work of James Rivers Barrington Stewart (1919-1962) who was the inaugural Professor of Middle Eastern Archaeology at the University of Sydney and former Honorary Curator of the University’s Nicholson Museum. The conference focused on Stewart’s many contributions to the archaeology of Cyprus, but also highlighted his most permanent and tangible legacy on the island: the purchase of CAARI’s current heritage-listed home on Andreas Demitriou Street, which was made possible through a generous donation from Stewart’s wife, Eve. CAARI also possesses duplicates from the Stewart library, as well as an important collection of Cypriot ethnographic objects collected on the island, also given by Eve Stewart. In fact, as Barker notes in his essay on Stewart’s excavations in Cyprus, in many ways, Eve Stewart’s donation, which the appropriately-named J. R. Stewart Residence at CAARI honors, realized (symbolically, at least) the couple’s original ambition to establish an Australian Institute on the island (21).

2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of James Stewart’s premature death—timing which also provided the raison d'être for the exhibition and resulting catalogue under review. According to Barker, the exhibition looked at “the history of Australian archaeologists working in Cyprus, the Nicholson Museum’s role in that study, and the museum’s extraordinary collection of antiquities from Aphrodite’s Island” (9). The slim, handsomely-produced color catalogue illustrates a selection of the 143 objects exhibited (listed in an appendix, pp. 72-3) from the Nicholson museum’s extensive collection of Cypriot antiquities of over 1500 objects. Not surprisingly, the activity of the Stewarts on Cyprus was a primary agent behind the museum’s Cypriot acquisitions, which also include 23 items purchased from the Cesnola collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York in the 1920s, and around 160 items acquired by the late Arthur Dale Trendall, former curator of the Nicholson and expert in South-Italian red-figure vases, on permanent loan from the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology in 1946-1947.

The exhibition, as well as the selection published here, illustrated all of the major historical periods from the Early Bronze Age to the Medieval. An eighteenth-century oil-on-canvas portrait of Caterina Cornara, Queen of Cyprus (1454-1510), from the university’s art collection and perhaps based on a Titian original (68), is the latest object. In addition to color illustrations (primarily single-view), catalogue entries provide basic information (brief description, date, provenance, collection history, museum inventory number, material, and dimensions). The collection was published previously in Trendall and Stewart’s Handbook to the Nicholson Museum, 2nd ed., (Sydney, 1948) and, more significantly, the catalogue by J. M. Webb (Corpus of Cypriote Antiquities 20: Cypriote Antiquities in the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney [Jonsered, 2001]).

Following the requisite front matter (e.g., missives from representatives of various institutional partners), an introduction by the museum’s curator and principal author (Barker), a map, and a useful chronological chart), the volume opens in earnest with a brief history of the Nicholson’s Cypriot collection, coupled with the presentation of five artifacts that illustrate various aspects of this acquisition history: a Mycenaean IIIC:1 squat jar (presented by the museums eponymous founder, Sir Charles Nicholson in 1860), a late Roman glass flask (from the Cesnola Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), a Late Cypriot terracotta kourotrophos (on permanent loan from the Museum of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge), and two Bichrome IV amphorae (including the so-called “Woodhouse Amphora” donated by the widow of W. J. Woodhouse, a former Professor of Greek at the University of Sydney and Honorary Curator of the museum from 1903 to 1927). This delightful format, which weaves brief essays with featured artifacts, is sustained throughout the book. For example, following an essay detailing Stewart’s archaeological work on Cyprus by Barker, three Early and Middle Cypriot vessels from Vounous and Ayia Paraskevi are illustrated, linking object-provenance to Stewart’s own excavations. Likewise, an essay on the excavations of Basil Hennessy (a student of Stewart) at Stephania is followed by entries for three vessels discovered in tombs from that cemetery. Three Hellenistic lagynoi complement an essay by Kehrberg on that vessel type, its connection to Ptolemaic Egypt and its widely-dispersed production in the Mediterranean.

As suggested above, the twelve short essays peppered throughout the volume take on a wide range of subjects and tone. Some offer biographical or anecdotal accounts directly related to Stewart’s (and his wife, Eve’s) legacy: work on Cyprus (Barker, Powell); Stewart’s ancestral house/self-made Cyprological study center at Bathurst in New South Wales (Barker); an exhibition held after Stewart’s death in 1962 displaying artifacts from his excavations at Karmi located 9 km west of Kyrenia (Barker); the work of Hennessy at Stephania, near Myrtou in northwest Cyprus (Barker), and a personal reflection of the Nicholson’s museum displays of ancient material from past to present (written by Merrillees, one of Stewart’s students and former Director of CAARI). Other essays offer discussions related to artifact types (Animals in Cypriot Art [Mrva-Montoya], Hellenistic Lagynoi [Kehrberg] or on-going Australian excavation projects in Cyprus (Early and Middle Bronze Age sites excavated by La Trobe University [Webb] and the ancient theater at Nea Paphos [Green and Barker]. The initial essay on the collection by Barker is book-ended by an interesting contribution by Conroy on the dynamic collaborations between Australian artists and archaeologists in Cyprus.

The essays and object descriptions are well written and informative, with citations to specialized publications for further reading. Neither the format nor the material presented warrants an overly critical review. The only error that should be noted is the misidentification of a Classical wreathed votary head (58) as a “Small Head of a Female Figure”; the figure is male and conforms to a ubiquitous type of limestone votary with vegetal wreath common in sanctuaries throughout the island (e.g., A. Hermary, Musée du Louvre, Département des antiquités orientales: Catalogue des antiquités de Chypre. Sculptures. [Paris, 1989], 203-19). Barker and his colleagues are to be congratulated for organizing the exhibition and this pleasing catalogue, which highlights the important contributions of Stewart, but also admirably accomplishes it stated goal to “introduce a new generation of museum visitors to the beauty and wonder of ancient Cypriot arts” through the museum’s collection (13).

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