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April 5, 2000


The Prehistoric Gallery
Cyprus between 1000 and 500 B.C.
Cyprus during the Classical Period
Cyprus in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods


With the opening of the new Cypriot Galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring, a selection of some 600 of the finest works from the Museum's historic Cesnola Collection — comprising works from Cyprus in all major media that date from ca. 2500 B.C. to ca. A.D. 300 — will return to public view in a new permanent installation. Acquired by General Luigi Palma di Cesnola while he was serving as American consul in Cyprus, these works were purchased by the newly formed Metropolitan Museum between 1874 and 1876 and constituted its first large collection of archaeological materials. In 1879, Cesnola was named the Museum's first Director, a position he held until his death in 1904. The new presentation, which will emphasize the collection's particular strengths in the areas of sculpture, bronze, terracotta, and precious metals, will open to the public on April 4, 2000.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum, commented: "The installation of the Cypriot Galleries — which brings back to public view a collection so pivotal to the Museum's early development — marks the end of the second phase in our current ten-year plan for the total renovation and reinstallation of the Greek and Roman Galleries. Our collections of Greek and Roman material are among the finest in the world and, with the completion of each part of our ambitious project, we are increasingly able to present them — in some cases, for the first time since their acquisition — in compelling exhibition settings. This is certainly the case with the Cesnola collection of Cypriot antiquities."

The Cesnola Collection is remarkable not only for its size and diversity, but also for its historical breadth, ranging from the Bronze Age to the end of the Roman period. When The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in 1880, the collection was the focus of attention and was heralded as a significant resource for the City of New York, which was then emerging fully as a major cultural as well as business center. At a time when European excavations around the Mediterranean — and particularly those of Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) at Troy and Mycenae — were causing a sensation, the Cesnola Collection helped to establish the Metropolitan's reputation as a major repository of classical antiquities. The Metropolitan's acquisition of the Cesnola Collection prompted subsequent British and French expeditions that sought to furnish European museums with Cypriot material to match that in New York.

The story of the Cesnola Collection is almost as colorful as that of its creator, Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832-1904). After a military career in Europe and as a Medal of Honor-winning Union officer in the American Civil War, Cesnola served as American consul in Cyprus from 1865 to 1876 and amassed an unrivaled collection of Cypriot antiquities both by excavation and by purchase. At the time, a number of antiquarians from various European countries were beginning to collect Cypriot antiquities, but they were soon outmatched by Cesnola, who came to dominate the scene in Cyprus. Cesnola saw his work as rivaling that of Schliemann at Troy and intended his discoveries on Cyprus to provide important evidence for the so-called "missing link" between the Biblical and classical worlds.

The final destination of the Cesnola Collection was for a long time uncertain. In 1870, negotiations were held first with Napoleon III of France, who wished to acquire the entire collection for the Louvre in Paris, then with Russian officials with a view to its transfer to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. But soon afterward, Cesnola shipped the collection — some 35,000 objects — to London, where it aroused considerable public interest when it was exhibited. At this point, the newly founded Metropolitan Museum intervened, purchasing a significant portion of the collection with funds raised through public subscription, with Junius Spencer Morgan — the father of J. Pierpont Morgan — John Taylor Johnston, and other Trustees of the Museum making substantial contributions. Cesnola accompanied his collection to New York, supervising the work on its installation and publication personally. In 1877, he became a trustee of the Metropolitan and, from 1879 until his death in 1904, served as its first Director.

The Cesnola Collection remains, by far, the most important and comprehensive collection of Cypriot material in the Western Hemisphere. The new Cypriot Galleries will display a selection of the primary works that illustrate the unique character of Cypriot art and highlight the exotic blend of classical and oriental influences that was felt on Cyprus throughout antiquity.

Within the second-floor Cypriot Galleries, the works will be organized chronologically, and will create a historical link between the ancient Near Eastern and Islamic collections in adjacent galleries — that is, the earliest Cypriot art will be installed near the gallery presenting late works from the ancient Near East, and late (Roman) Cypriot art will be displayed near the earliest material from the Islamic collection. This arrangement will allow the Museum visitor to appreciate the interrelationship among neighboring cultures.

The Prehistoric Gallery
The Prehistoric Gallery will feature works of art datable between ca. 7000 and 1000 B.C., representing the Neolithic (ca. 7000 B.C.—ca. 3800 B.C.) and Chalcolithic (ca. 3800 B.C.—ca. 2500 B.C.) (literally "copper-stone") periods, followed by the Bronze Age (ca. 2500 B.C.-ca. 1000 B.C.).

Because works from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods of habitation on the island had not yet been discovered when the Cesnola Collection was formed, these early cultures will be represented by a generous loan of four works from The Cyprus Museum, Nicosia, made possible by the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus and the A. G. Leventis Foundation.

The breadth of the Cesnola Collection allows an unusually comprehensive display of the arts of Bronze Age Cyprus, which — despite its proximity to the mainland — appear to have developed in relative isolation during the Early and Middle Bronze Age periods. Characteristic works in clay will represent the lively Cypriot tradition of modeling terracotta figures that begins at this time. The exhibition will include handmade pottery and terracotta sculptures of humans and animals, as well as stone implements and copper-alloy tools.

In the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1600 B.C.-ca. 1000 B.C.), Cyprus became an important center of copper production and a player in international trade. (In antiquity, Cyprus was so well-known for its copper mines that the modern English word "copper" comes from the Latin cuprum, which in turn is derived from Kypros, the Greek name for the island.) At the crossroads of maritime trade between ancient civilizations of Anatolia to the north, Egypt to the south, mainland Greece and the Aegean Sea to the west, and Mesopotamia and Syria to the east, Cypriot artisans absorbed and adapted artistic styles from many cultures around the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Actual imports — Mycenaean Greek pottery, Egyptian glass, and Syrian metalwork — will be displayed beside Cypriot works in clay and stone, faience vases, gold and silver jewelry, terracotta figurines, and especially fine bronzework that illustrate the manifold influences on as well as the achievements of Cypriot artists at this time. Specific pottery styles, especially the Cypriot White Slip and Base Ring wares, attest to the continued development of distinctive local traditions. With the settlement of Mycenaean Greeks on the island toward the end of the Bronze Age, Cyprus became one of the few places where there is clear continuity of Greek culture from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age.

Cyprus between 1000 and 500 B.C.
During the first half of the first millennium B.C., Cyprus was populated by a succession of foreigners, all of whom left their mark on the island's culture and art. By the end of the eleventh century B.C., Cyprus received the last of the refugees from the devastation that had overcome the great centers of Mycenaean Greece. These immigrants brought — and perpetuated — Mycenaean customs of burial, pottery production, warfare, etc. They were also responsible for introducing the Greek language.

By about 800 B.C., the island received an equally significant influx of Phoenician traders, who quickly established large settlements and profited from the indigenous resources, notably copper and timber. Between the end of the eighth century and the second half of the sixth century B.C., Cyprus fell under the successive domination of Assyria, Egypt, and Persia.

These remarkable historical circumstances underlie the correspondingly rich and complex artistic picture of Cyprus during the Archaic period, ca. 750-475 B.C. The scope of the Cesnola Collection makes it possible to illustrate the character and contribution of the various populations in a variety of media.

One of the strengths of the collection lies in the sculpture made of local limestone and used to create either impressive dedications in sanctuaries or elaborate sarcophagi. The sarcophagus from Amathus, with its many figures and well-preserved polychromy, is among the foremost monuments of Cypriot art Particularly well represented also are the shallow bowls of gold, silver, and bronze that were made for, and dedicated by, the aristocracy of Cyprus. Together with other luxury items of precious metals, semi-precious stones, and ivory, these bowls display a fusion of disparate styles on a high artistic level and convey the wealth and diversity in Archaic Cyprus. This material is complemented by a selection of the finest vases, terracottas, bronzes, and other objects.

Cyprus during the Classical Period
Cypriot sculpture, terracottas, vases, jewelry, and coins of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. will be featured in the next gallery.

The gallery is made possible by a generous grant from the A. G. Leventis Foundation.

Following the incorporation of Cyprus into the Achaemenid empire during the second half of the sixth century B.C., contacts increased with other areas under Persian rule, such as Syria-Palestine, Phoenicia, and the East Greek cities on the west coast of Asia Minor. During the war between Greece and Persia (490-479 B.C.), Cyprus provided men and ships to the Persians, and the island was isolated from the mainstream of Greek culture and trade until the end of the fifth century, when the energetic king Evagoras I of Salamis (411-374/3 B.C.) fostered close ties with Greece and particularly Athens. Despite this hiatus in contact, Cypriot art in the Classical period was influenced strongly by Greek models, and most of the works in this gallery will show a mixture of Greek, Phoenician, and native elements.

Two limestone statues of men dedicated in the temple at Golgoi are dressed in the Greek manner, each wearing a finely pleated linen chiton (tunic) and a woolen himation (cloak). The soft modeling and sprightly expression of their faces derives from East Greek art of the late sixth century B.C.

A variety of stone funerary monuments will also be displayed. The room will be dominated by a large limestone sarcophagus from the necropolis of Golgoi. The scenes in low relief, that have parallels in Greek art, depict a hunt, a banquet, a chariot, and Perseus, the son of Zeus who decapitated Medusa, the Gorgon who turned men into stone. They show variations in style and in detail that were introduced by local sculptors and, indeed, the subjects themselves may be associated with the life of the deceased. Also on view will be two grave markers with high reliefs that bring to mind examples from Greece and two impressive capitals from tall rectangular shafts that show floral motifs derived from Phoenician art. Another terminal for a tall funerary shaft has a pair of elegant sphinxes. A blend of the Greek and the local style of decoration is found in Cypriot jewelry, such as a type of massive, highly ornate loop earring found only on Cyprus. At the same time, the Cypriot ceramic tradition maintained independence from outside influence, as will be demonstrated by a group of exuberantly decorated figural pitchers.

Cyprus in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods
From the end of the fourth century B.C., Cyprus was dominated by foreign powers, first by the Ptolemies — a Macedonian Greek dynasty that ruled Egypt — and later by the Romans, who made the island into a province of the Roman Empire in 58 B.C. Local Cypriot artistic and cultural traditions survived into the Hellenistic period, but gradually were assimilated into the Greek style that predominated in the eastern Mediterranean world. Under the Romans, sculpture, architecture, and the decorative arts reflected developments elsewhere in the Empire, demonstrating that the island was fully integrated into the Roman world.

During this period, Paphos was the principal city of Cyprus and gained fame from the temple of Aphrodite, which it showed proudly on its coinage. Indeed, the whole island benefited from the fact that Cyprus was recognized as the birthplace of Aphrodite (Roman Venus). A number of other cults remained important at the same time. In this gallery, special emphasis will be given to these cults, the sanctuaries they fostered, and the votives dedicated to them. Three such full-scale statues of figures dedicated at a sanctuary surround a large limestone statue of Aphrodite. Statuettes of other gods, such as the Greek Artemis and Apollo and the Egyptian Bes will be grouped nearby, together with votive plaques.

One case will contain limestone and terracotta figures of very young children that were dedicated at a temple of Apollo, probably at the time when a child was placed under the god's protection. Statues of these so-called "temple boys" have been found in great numbers on Cyprus.

A group of heads from votive statues will demonstrate the realistic, portrait-like style that developed on the island as Greek taste supplanted local artistic conventions in the Hellenistic period. Smaller objects, jewelry, and coins will complete the display in this gallery and also reflect the island's place in the wider Mediterranean world.

A new publication, Ancient Art from Cyprus: The Cesnola Antiquities from Cyprus in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, will accompany the exhibition. Written by Vassos Karageorghis, in collaboration with Joan R. Mertens, Curator, and Marice E. Rose, Research Associate, the work will provide an introduction to the development of Cypriot art as represented by significant examples in the Museum's exceptional collection. The book — which is the first publication devoted to the Cesnola Collection since the comprehensive 1914 handbook by J. L. Myers — is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Harry N. Abrams, and will be available in the Museum's Bookshops and at bookstores nationwide.

A variety of educational programs will be offered, including lectures and gallery talks for general visitors.

The exhibition is organized by Carlos A. Picón, Curator in Charge; Joan R. Mertens, Curator; Christopher S. Lightfoot, Associate Curator; Elizabeth J. Milleker, Associate Curator, and Seén Hemingway, Assistant Curator, all of the Museum's Department of Greek and Roman Art, and Dr. Vassos Karageorghis, former Director of Antiquities, Cyprus. Installation design is by Jeffrey L. Daly, Chief Designer of the Museum's Design Department.


November 10, 1999

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