(New York, November 5, 2004)—The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today the acquisition of a group of three exceptional Cycladic terracotta vases dating to circa 2000 B.C. Purchased through a gift from The Annenberg Foundation, the group consists of a container for offerings known as a kernos, a tall jar, and a jug.
"These works are spectacular additions to the Metropolitan Museum's Cycladic collection," stated Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum. "They are powerful as works of art, representing the potter's expertise at its most accomplished, and also serve as rich sources of information about Cycladic culture and its interrelations with neighboring areas such as Crete. Thanks to the generosity of The Annenberg Foundation, the Museum's holdings have been strengthened immeasurably by this acquisition. This is particularly welcome at this crucial time, as the Department of Greek and Roman Art, led by Carlos Picón, is carrying out extensive renovations of their galleries and reinstallation of their collections."
The three objects were found together on the Aegean island of Melos in 1829 by a
British officer, Captain Richard Copeland, who was surveying in the eastern Mediterranean. They were donated to Eton College in Windsor, England, by Copeland's widow in 1857. The offering vase and the jar were first put on view at the Metropolitan Museum as loans in 1996 on the occasion of the opening of the Robert and Renée Belfer Court, the first phase of the ongoing reinstallation of the Museum's Greek and Roman Galleries. The jug was included in the recent purchase of the group by the Metropolitan. All are now on view together in the Belfer Court, which houses prehistoric and early Greek art.
The art of the ancient Cycladic islands is most familiar from the elegant marble statuettes, usually of female figures, that were created between about 2800 and 2000 B.C. The same extraordinary level of craftsmanship evident in the statuettes appears in the offering container. Standing 13-5/8 inches high, it consists of a conical stand that supports 25 elongated receptacles, which are connected by a series of small platforms and struts – a very early application of the cantilever principle. The two rings of receptacles would probably have contained offerings of natural products such as seeds, grain, fruit, perhaps fibers, and so on. The decoration consists of lines that emphasize the major features of the vase; the blackish-brown glaze is applied over a buff slip that covers the actual surface.
Although the piece has received some slight repairs, every aspect of its preservation is excellent. Kernoi of this type are associated principally with the island of Melos and have most often been found in tombs. The majority are far simpler, with between three and 12 receptacles. Only a handful of kernoi compare closely with the example now in the Metropolitan Museum; the finest counterparts are in The British Museum, London, and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. The newly acquired kernos, arguably the finest preserved, was also the last one in private hands.
The second object, the jar, probably contained a burial. At 16-3/8 inches in height, it is slightly taller than the kernos. While the shape is well attested, the Eton example is featured throughout the archaeological literature thanks to its superb state of preservation. The decoration is very similar to that of the kernos, also with an emphasis on articulating the important parts of the shape.
There can be little doubt that the jug (10-5/8 inches in height) goes together with the jar, given the similarity of the patternwork.
The Metropolitan Museum's collection of prehistoric antiquities from the Greek world, while not extensive, is comprised of pieces of extraordinary importance. The Cycladic collection, until now, has been best known for marble figures such as a Neolithic female figure dating to about 4500 B.C., an elegant standing figure in the mature Cycladic style, and a seated harp player. The latter two pieces fall within the Early Cycladic I and Early Cycladic II periods, or between about 2800 and 2400 B.C. The recently acquired group from Eton dates to somewhat later, during the transition from the Early Cycladic III period to Middle Cycladic I, or about 2300 to 1900 B.C.