History of the Cypriote Acquisitions at Bryn Mawr College


There are over 450 Cypriote objects in the Ella Riegel Collections at Bryn Mawr College. The majority of these objects are small sherds that provide a wonderful study collection of Cypriote ceramics. However, there are a significant number of impressive Cypriote objects as well, which are the result of various donations to the Bryn Mawr College Collections. The most recent acquisition occurred in 1986 when Vassos Karageorghis, then the director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, donated 79 Late Bronze Age sherds (mostly Base Ring Ware and White Slip Ware) for the formulation of a study collection at Bryn Mawr. The intention of this generous gift was to aid the study of Cypriote archaeology, and this website has attempted to make those sherds more accessible. Click here to view the materials donated by the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus.

The majority of the other materials in the collection came from three important sources, all of which may be originally linked to the Cesnola Collection. Bryn Mawr received donations from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Albert Gallatin and numerous other private individuals who often donated one artifact to the collection. The ceramics donated by Albert Gallatin were objects formerly in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and originally part of the Cesnola collection. It may also be assumed that the gifts from the MET originally formed part of the well-known Cesnola collection. Some of the ceramics in the Bryn Mawr collections still have non Bryn Mawr accession numbers written on the exterior surface; these numbers (such as 495, CP 980, 164, 159, 369, 294, CP 428, 381, 630, 596) indicate that those specific objects were in the Cesnola collection. These numbers no longer correspond to accession numbers that the MET has assigned to the Cesnola collection however there seem to have been at least three different numbering systems given to the Cesnola collection since its acquisition in the 1870s. Many of the private donators may have given Cypriote ceramics to Bryn Mawr College that were at one time in the Metropolitan museum and part of the Cesnola collection. This possibility is the result of two significant auctions sponsored by the MET for part of the Cesnola collection in 1928. (See below for more information on these auctions.) Although auction catalogues still exist, there is no record for the destination of all of the Cesnola objects. Sometimes, it is difficult to identify whether a private donator in the middle of the 20th century acquired the Cypriote materials from the MET auction, however I strongly suspect that a number of the pieces in the Bryn Mawr Collections were acquired by individuals who attended the 1928 auction and either passed the objects to family members (who may have eventually donated the materials to BMC) or donated the materials directly to Bryn Mawr. In 1928, Albert Gallatin and Francis C. Jones were members of the MET and "fellows for life" according to the The MET 59th Annual Report of the Trustees – 1928. Both of these individuals eventually donated Cypriote objects to Bryn Mawr and it seems reasonable to deduce that both Gallatin and Jones (Jones donated P-67 to BMC) attended the 1928 MET auction and purchased Cesnola artifacts.

Portrait of General Cesnola. Luigi Palma di Cesnola, an Italian by birth who fought with the Union in the American Civil War and later served as the American consulate to Cyprus, “excavated” numerous Cypriot sites and subsequently removed 35,000 objects from the island between 1865 and 1877. His explorations of the island are important in the history and archaeology of Cyprus. Cesnola’s activity on the island played a formative role in the origins of the Metropolitan Museum. The collection was sold to the MET in two parts between 1873 and 1877, and Cesnola became the first director of the museum from 1879-1904. For a map of Cesnola's investigations on Cyprus, see map below.

Click for a more informative overview of Cesnola's biography. Click for more information on the Cesnola collection.

Much of the previous paragraph is only a logical hypothesis and more work is needed to make connections to the MET and the Cesnola collection for some objects. However, it should be recognized that there are numerous objects in the Bryn Mawr Collections that were part of the Cesnola Collection. The Cesnola objects at Bryn Mawr indicate the complex history of artifact dissemination in North America during the early 20th century. Hopefully in the future, one will gain a better understanding of where other Cesnola objects were dispersed.


Two explanations for the 1928 auction of Cesnola collection artifacts:

1) The following quote is from a letter written on February 14th, 1928 from Robert de Forest (the president of the MET) to Mitchell Kennerley (the president of Anderson Galleries). The letter is found on the inside cover of the auction catalogue: Cypriote & Classical Antiquities, duplicates of the Cesnola & other collections. Anderson Galleries, Inc. [1928]

“Rather than continue to hold these objects in storage where they perform no useful service, the Trustees have determined to dispose of them by auction sale in March and April so that other museums and private collectors can obtain them and enjoy their possession. They deem it a duty to the appreciation of art that all these objects should be put to use. They earlier considered distributing them among other American museums, but to attempt to do so would have involved questions of discrimination and would have delayed vacating space for which the Museum has urgent and immediate need. It is the hope of the Trustees that by distributing these objects among a large number of people the interest in Classical antiquities will be increased. The decorative value of this kind of material is only gradually being recognized. There is no better way of stimulating its appreciation than by placing such objects of art in as many museums, colleges, libraries and private houses as possible.”

2) The following quote is found in The MET 59th Annual Report of the Trustees – 1928, which was published in New York in 1929.

"An important and unusual event of the year was the sale by auction in March and April of duplicates acquired by purchase with the collection of Cypriote antiquities in 1874 and 1876, and other duplicates of objects in the Department of Classical Art. The Trustees have never before acted upon their right to dispose of property of this character; their present decision was governed chiefly by their desire to make these objects useful to others and to save the care and space involved in continual storage.”


Map of Cesnola's investigations on Cyprus. Map taken from inside cover of: Di Cesnola, 1991 (reprint of 1877 edition). Cyprus, its ancient cities, tombs, and temples . Limassol : James Bendon.