Museum mysteries: a case of mistaken (provenance) identity

Roswyn Wiltshire explores the challenges of investigating provenance in this article on Roman glass from the collection of Canterbury Museum.

Within the vaults of Canterbury Museum lie well over a hundred ancient glass vessels. Many visitors to the Teece Museum, where a few of these objects are now displayed, have been astounded by the skill with which such fragile vessels were crafted so long ago, and the beautiful condition in which they are preserved. Uncovering their secrets, however, often requires extensive research, challenging the researcher to become a sleuth!

Canterbury Museum inventory listing the Roman glass, believed to be compiled by Julius von Haast.

The most well-known portion of Canterbury Museum’s ancient glass collection is known as the Damon Collection, named after the English geologist and conchologist Robert Damon, who actively collected objects between 1873 and 1882. There are, however, a small number of lesser known Roman glass vessels which fall outside the bounds of the Damon collection. One of the reasons these vessels are not as well-known is the dearth of information on their provenance. Trawling through 19th century inventories scrawled in flowing but not terribly legible writing has offered some clues – and sometimes more questions!

Glass from Tharros

Three items (two small flasks and a small jug) were identified in the Museum’s database as coming from Tharros, on Sardinia. One of these flasks bears a diamond-shaped sticker with an identifying number of the first collection it belonged to in Italy before it was sent to Canterbury Museum director Julius von Haast (1822-1887) in an exchange of objects. Antiquities from Tharros are mentioned among new additions to the Museum’s displays in a newspaper article from 1874[1], during von Haast’s time as director. So far so good. Consulting the list that is believed to have been written by von Haast however, I discovered that there were only two glass items noted as coming from Tharros. The first problem was relatively easy to solve. The list read:

Lachrymatory in Glass Roman Period Rome
                                                                        Taros, Sardinia         1

The ‘Rome’ at the end of the first sentence is probably the provenance for one of the flasks. Perhaps von Haast forgot to number it, and somewhere along the way both flasks (here referred to as lachrymatories which was a common but false identification) began to be recorded as being from Taros (an alternate spelling for Tharros). A more precise document would have probably read:

Lachrymatory in glass, Roman Period:  Rome x1
Taros, Sardinia x1

Imperial Roman free-blown glass flask, first century CE, Canterbury Museum, EA1979.706. Very similar flasks have been found on Tharros.

The number of Sardinian glass vessels from Tharros was reduced to just two, as per von Haast’s original list – but the case was not yet closed. The second item from Tharros had been referred to as an amphora in one list, and aryballos in another – were these mistaken references to the same small jug mentioned in the Museum database?[2] I looked again to von Haast’s list for clarification, and found a glass item listed as ‘amphora’, with the Phoenician finds from Tharros.

My examination had proven that the small jug was blown-glass (ie glass shaped by blowing air through a blowpipe into a glob of molten glass). This meant the jug could not be Phoenician, for that technique was only discovered during the 1st century B.C.E[3], long after the Phoenician civilisation had declined.  So which piece had von Haast been referring to as a Phoenician amphora?

As it happens, Canterbury Museum does have an amphoriskos of the late 6th – early 5th century B.C.E. This amphoriskos, meaning ‘small amphora’, is a lovely little core-formed vessel, 7.1cm high, with what is known as ‘marvered’ decoration. The hot glass was wrapped around a core, before more coloured strands of glass were added on top. The vessel was then rolled on a flat surface so that the layers merged into an even, decorated surface. The artisan put a lot of effort into this single piece – when it cracked during the manufacture process it was patched up with an extra blob of blue glass. This detail suggests that the artisan felt it still worth selling, rather than tossing it out and starting again.

 

Phoenician core-formed amphoriskos, late sixth – early fifth century BCE, Canterbury Museum, EA1979.499

It dates to a period in which the Phoenicians were active (though their power was waning). It is the correct form, and a very similar example has been found on Tharros[4]. It would not be unreasonable, therefore, to suspect that this is the second piece from Tharros mentioned in the 1874 article.

Unfortunately, where the mislabelled small jug might then come from, is another, and as yet unsolved, mystery.

Glass from England and Rome

A similarly convoluted identification mystery arose with a collection of 11 glass objects labelled as being from England and Rome. Of those, six fragments bear the latter identification, but the only glass object from Rome listed by von Haast is the aforementioned ‘lachrymatory’. Nor does the 1895 Guide to Collections in Canterbury Museum make any mention of glass from Rome[5]. My initial thought was that these may have been much later additions to the collection.

I then noticed an entry of “Roman glass found in England”; thirteen pieces, of which, the 1977-1980 catalogue notes, six are missing. Could the fragments I found labelled as being from ‘Rome’ be those missing pieces, the label erroneously added by someone who saw ‘Roman’ and thought of the place rather than the people? It would be very straightforward to declare these the missing items, if only they could be identified as Romano-British. However, my research indicated that the vivid iridescence of the fragments, in hues of bright pink, bronze and gold, is more typical of glass from the Mediterranean, making it unlikely they are Romano-British.

Downcast, I set about dating the remaining five fragments labelled as being from England. Romano-British glass is so well documented that there are hand-books of forms, listing the areas where they are typically found and how common they are. I was surprised, then, to discover that I simply could not find a match for a beaker from this group; a wonderfully intact piece with a thickened, fire-rounded rim. Eventually, however, I found two like examples in the British Museum collection[6]. Both were from Cyprus.

 

Imperial Roman free-blown beaker, second – mid-third century CE, Canterbury Museum, EA1979.648

I re-examined the other ‘English’ pieces. There were two flasks I had been able to date immediately, as I had looked at twelve of the same type from Damon’s Collection – all of which were from Cyprus. Sure enough, they were not depicted in the Romano-British handbooks. The rest were small flask types that occur all over the Roman Empire, and most of the ‘Rome’ fragments were too small to reconstruct a whole vessel from, but one other piece stood out – a flask of emerald green. I’d found a match in the Louvre collection, but that was also of unknown provenance. In the British Museum, however, was yet another – from Salamis, Cyprus[7].

Although it cannot be proved at this stage, I believe that the glass identified as from ‘Rome’ and from ‘England’ is largely, if not entirely, from Cyprus. It was probably gifted – von Haast acquired whole vessels, not fragments, in his exchanges – perhaps by someone from England. Somewhere along the way a miscommunication may have occurred or a mistake was made, leading to the collection being misidentified.

And why so much glass from Cyprus – not only in the Damon Collection but also in these earlier bequests? That, for once, is easy to answer, and this is perhaps some of the best circumstantial evidence for a Cypriote provenance.

At the time that von Haast was setting up Canterbury Museum and Damon was travelling the Levant, Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the American Consul to Cyprus, was conducting excavations on the island. This was the first time ancient glass was uncovered in such quantities, flooding the antiquities market and bringing ancient glass to public attention – even as far away as New Zealand.

Investigating the provenance of the vessels revealed to me both the limitations and potential of such research. The small jug has, for the time being, been shelved as ‘provenance unknown’, but may in future be identified through other means. The amphoriskos, however, has credibly shed its unknown origin. Nevertheless, without provenance we can still learn from these artefacts – the techniques used in ancient times, the materials available, the objects favoured… And from the amphoriskos, with its repair work, we also have a rare glimpse into the effort involved in making such pieces and the value placed on such an object of the distant past.

 

Roswyn Wiltshire has just completed a Master of Arts in Classics at the University of Canterbury, researching the hitherto unpublished collection of ancient glass in Canterbury Museum. She has worked with the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities since 2017.

 

Acknowledgements:

Our thanks to the staff of Canterbury Museum for their generous support of this research project, and permission to reproduce images of the Roman glass for this article. Thanks also to photographer Matthew Walters, Science Communication and Digital Imaging, UC School of Biological Sciences, for producing such striking images of the glass.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Author unknown. June 9, 1874. ‘The Museum’ Press, v. XXII.

[2]An aryballos is like a jug in that it is a single-handled vessel for pouring; more properly, however, it used to refer to ceramic Greek vessels, typically with spherical body. An amphora is a two-handled storage vessel; the miniature variety tend to be referred to by the diminutive – amphoriskoi.

[3]The height of Phoenician power was between 1500 and 800 B.C.E.

[4]Barnett, R.D. and Mendleson, C. (eds.). 1987. Tharros: a Catalogue of material in the British Museum from Phoenician and other tombs at Tharros, Sardinia. London: British Museum Publications. pl. 118, 23/5.

[5]Hutton, F.W. 1895. Guide to the Collections in the Canterbury Museum. New Zealand: Lyttelton Times Company.

[6]The examples in the British Museum are from Kourion (1896,0201.299;1896,0201.300). There is another in the Metropolitan Museum, collected by Cesnola from Cyprus (Lightfoot, 2017. Cat. 60).

[7]BM 1881,0901,23.

Local Heroes of Classics #1 Francis Haslam

An Education Beyond the Classroom: Professor Haslam and his approach to education.

By Emily Rosevear.

The idea that a university might not only nurture the intellectual life of its students, but also contribute to their social and cultural wellbeing, was proposed surprisingly early in the history of the University of Canterbury. One of its foremost proponents was a professor of Classics, Francis William Haslam.

I first started researching Professor Haslam for a public talk presented as part of the 2019 BECA Christchurch Heritage Festival. The talk, which was part of the series entitled “For the love of Classics – Encountering local heroes of Classics at the Teece Museum”, explored the life of Francis Haslam and his contribution to life at Canterbury College through the many sporting and academic clubs he supported during his career.

Portrait of Francis HaslamHistory of The University Of Canterbury 1873- 1973. University of Canterbury Library.

A sense of community

Francis Haslam began his career at Canterbury College when he took over the Chair of Classics from Professor John Macmillan Brown in 1879, becoming the first sole Professor of Classics at Canterbury College (as Macmillan Brown had taught English as well as Classics). Haslam remained the Professor of Classics at the College until his retirement in 1912.

As a Cambridge Scholar, Haslam brought with him to Canterbury College the idea that a university should have a sense of community centred around communal living and college sport. He wasted no time sharing his thoughts on the subject as he stated in his inaugural public lecture:

“We have as yet no collective undergraduate life, but if we wish to keep the pick of our youth, we must give them something besides mere lectures, we must make it possible for them to come from all parts of the colony and find collected and domiciled here the choicest intellectual spirits of their own age.”

View of Canterbury College, ca.1906, AWNS-19060118-10-2, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection.

Life outside the Classroom

Throughout his time at Canterbury College Haslam was an active member of many sporting and academic clubs. Most notably he was a member of the Dialectic Society as well as founder and president of the football club. He was also involved in the athletics club and rowing club, while also providing awards for the cross-country steeplechase and inter-university rifle shooting competition. For a while he was also both an active member and President of the Philosophical Institute.

The Dialectic Society, which was one of the first clubs established at Canterbury College, held numerous debates, concerts and informal meetings. In 1884 Haslam was appointed the honorary President of the Dialectic Society and gave the presidential address which was entitled “Dialectic: Its History and its Place in Education.” The Dialectic Society also put on dramatic performances for Diploma Day celebrations, and in 1888 presented an adapted version of Aristophanes The Clouds composed by Haslam himself. Although a copy of the play is yet to be found we do know, thanks to A History of UC and the Canterbury College Review, that it touched on some topical local matters and that O.T.J. Alpers, one of the students who was playing the character of Strepsiades, was “embarrassed by the melting of his putty nose during the performance.”

Image of 1884 Dialectic Society Session, Canterbury College Graduates Association Records, MB 62 (155223). Macmillan Brown Library,  University of Canterbury.

The ‘Father of College Football’

Haslam was a strong advocate for university sport and was an instrumental figure in the establishment of the football club earning himself the title of the “Father of College football”. He was not only coach and manager but also played in some of the early matches as half-back. In 1883 the Lyttelton Times wrote that “he showed his men that he could teach them something on the football field as well as in the classroom.” Haslam was still playing in matches when the First XV was accepted into the formalised Canterbury Rugby Football Union Senior competition. In 1886 the first inter-university match was played against Otago University. Before the match Haslam wrote to the Captain, Heinrich von Haast, saying:

“My Dear von Haast, It’s no good my attempting to play tomorrow.
This change in the weather has pretty well done for me. I should only make a fool of myself and perhaps lose the game for us… I should have liked the thought afterwards that I was one of the first ‘inter-university fifteen,’ but it can’t be helped.”

Canterbury ended up winning the match five points to four and as W.D. Bean’s winning kick went over, Haslam’s bowler hat could be seen “soaring into the clouds”. Haslam continued to act as coach and manager and was president of the club when it was formalised in 1886 until his retirement in 1912 when the club was saddened by the loss of such an avid supporter.

Canterbury College Football Team 1886, Canterbury University College Rugby Football Club Golden Jubilee 1886-1936. Macmillan Brown Library,  University of Canterbury.

Life After Canterbury College

After over 30 years at Canterbury College Haslam retired in 1912, but remained a prominent figure in Christchurch society, working to support the war effort. He even took on a position at Christ’s College to allow a member of staff to do military service. Haslam died in a private hospital in Auckland on November 23rd 1923 aged 75. His obituary in the New Zealand Herald noted his work at Canterbury College and for his sporting achievements.

Francis Haslam was remembered by Canterbury College as a patient teacher who instilled a love of knowledge in his students. He should also be acknowledged for his contribution to the development of a university community which enriched the lives of students beyond the classroom.

 

Emily Rosevear recently competed her Master’s Degree in History at the University of Canterbury and currently works as a Gallery Host at the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities.

 

References:

Canterbury College Review, 1912 (40). Accessed June 19, 2019. URL: http://digital-library.canterbury.ac.nz/resources/open/canterbury_college_review/CC-Review-40-1912.pdf

Football: Christ’s College vs Canterbury College,”  Lyttelton Times, June 18, 1883. Accessed July 1, 2019. URL:  https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/LT18830618.2.35.

Gardner, W. J., E.T. Beardsley and T. E. Carter. History of The University Of Canterbury,1873- 1973. Christchurch: University of Canterbury, 1973. https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/15146

Hight, James and Alice M. F. Candy. A Short History of the Canterbury College (University of New Zealand) With a Register of Graduates and Associates of the College. Auckland: Whitcomb and Tombs Limited, 1927.

Macmillan Brown library Archive, Canterbury College Graduates Association Records, MB 62 (155223).

“Obituary: Professor F. W. C. Haslam,” New Zealand Herald, November 24, 1923. Accessed June 13, 2019. URL: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH19231124.2.132

University of Canterbury Rugby Football Club. University of Canterbury Rugby Football Club Centennial, 1883-1983: History of the Club, Club Officials, Representative Players, Senior Players. Christchurch: The Club, 1983.

Potted Histories: Welcome to the Teece Museum blog!

As the nation moves into isolation as a result of the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the Teece Museum and most other museums and galleries are closing their doors. Ironically, as we all become a little more physically distant, this seems like an excellent time for the Teece to finally launch its very own blog.

 

 

It is incredibly important that we all do our bit to ensure that the community remains safe and reduce the risk of further infections. So what can a museum do to contribute in times like these? We think one of the ways we can support everyone is to reach out virtually, and provide alternative ways for the community to interact with, and enjoy, our shared heritage.

Thanks in part to many of our former interns, the Teece already has a number of digital exhibitions and resources available online. Over the next few weeks while our gallery hosts are working from home, we will be using their considerable knowledge and talents to develop more online offerings including regular blog posts. We hope to use these articles to arouse your curiosity about the ancient world, consider its relationship to contemporary society, and give you a deeper glimpse behind the scenes into the world of a university museum.