Thursday, 16 December 2010

Unveiling Ouida: A Glimpse of Public Sculpture in the Early 20th Century

On a crisp day in November 1910, a crowd gathered in the small town of Bury St Edmunds to witness the unveiling of a new public momument. Dressed in the day's finery, men, women and children waited for a glimpse of the bronze and marble statue by sculptor Ernest Gillick, commemorating the life of locally-born author Marie Louise de la Ramee, who wrote under the pseudonym Ouida.

The photograph provides a rare insight into public arts practices and partonage in the early 20th century Britain, and are part of a collection of papers belonging to sculptors Ernest and Mary Gillick, donated to Leeds Museums & Galleries, deposited in the Henry Moore Institute Archive, in 2005. I found these during my internship with Leeds Museums & Galleries, working through and listing the extensive archive of drawings, letters, diaries, photographs and research papers.

Born in Bradford in 1874, Ernest Gillick attended the Nottingham School of Art from 1896-1899, where his talents won him several gold medal awards. In 1901, The Royal College of Art Awarded Gillick a National Travelling Studentship and he spent a year studying the architecture and sculpture of Italy. He was elected Associate of the Royal College of Art in 1904.

Misty Ericson, intern, December 2010




Monday, 13 December 2010

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël! Fröhliche Weihnachten! İFeliz Navidad!



Say it with a fan…

This miniature silk fan is part of the Leeds Museums collection housed at Abbey House Museum. It is a sweet twist on the idea of sending a Christmas card. The greeting on the fan is, ‘Joy and all fair things attend your Christmas tide’. The fan is from the nineteenth century and depicts a new and innovative way of sending your Christmas greetings.




Christmas cards have been passed between families and friends since the mid nineteenth century. The first ever commercial Christmas card was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in London, 1843 and was designed by artist John Callcott Horsley.

As the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season of 1843 to compose individual Christmas greetings usually in the form of letters for his friends. Therefore he came up with the idea of sending a card by post. One thousand copies of the card were printed and sold for one shilling (5p today).

The card had three panels. The outer two showed people caring for the poor and the centre panel was a family drinking and eating together. The inscription read, ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.’ Although the card caused controversy because it showed a child being given a glass of wine, the sending of Christmas cards was a hit.

Of the original one thousand Cole cards printed only twelve are known to exist in private collections. An original Cole card that was sent to his grandmother holds the world record as the most expensive Christmas card ever sold. It was sold at auction in 2001 to an anonymous bidder for £22,250!

No one could have predicted the outcome of Christmas cards, even the Christmas card manufacturers themselves believed it was a phase that would pass. However as printing and postal methods improved the sending of cards became much more popular and they were produced in large numbers from 1860.

These early Christmas cards depicted, flowers, fairies, sentimental designs of children, humorous designs of animals and even flying butterflies amongst stalks of wheat or insects landing on ripening blackberries. These images were to remind the recipient of the approaching of spring. A complete contrast to what we view today as being ‘traditional Christmas cards’ ones that show wintry or religious themes. It was not until late Victorian times snow scenes with a robin, like this one from the 1860s, became popular because of the postmen’s nickname, ‘Robins’ due to the red uniform that they wore.


Today Christmas cards contain many different types of images and themes. They also come in many shapes and sizes and even the method has changed with many people preferring to send ‘e-cards’. The UK is the world leader on sending Christmas cards, spending £1billion each year. I bet the early Victorian Christmas card manufacturers could certainly have never predicted that!
By Georgie Cash



Flirtatious Fans




The ultimate accessory for any well respecting lady for many centuries. As well as being a practical tool for keeping cool in hot weather and complementing the dress, they were also used for ‘making eyes’ promising untold delights, aka flirting.

I am an intern looking at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre’s collection of fans and I became intrigued by them. Some of them are beautiful with intricate designs, whilst others are plain, or made from feathers or in one case disguised as what looks like a cigar! I began to delve a little more into the world of fans and found what is known as ‘the language of the fan’ as rather amusing.




The earliest recorded use of a fan dates from 3200BC, however it was not until the eighteenth century in Europe that the use of the fan was developed to the highest degree. They were used in winter and summer, as memory aids, political propaganda, parlour games and masks as well as flirting tools. The language of the fan was developed to such sophistication that entire conversations could be conducted without having spoken at all!




In 1910, a book was published that listed over fifty signals that could be conveyed with fans, ranging from ‘I hate you’ to ‘I long to be near you’. Forget dating sites and lonely hearts columns, why not grab a fan and try out some eighteenth century ‘fan speak’ and see where how effective it is for you.

Shut fan held to the heart says - you have my love
Placing fan on the left ear – I wish to get rid of you
Shut fan resting on the right eye – when may I be allowed to see you?
Drawing fan through the hand – I hate you
With handle to the lips – kiss me



Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Structure and Decoration: Work Continues on the Hinton House Bed.

So much has happened since the bed canopy came down and it's getting really exciting. Ian Fraser immediately began working on rescuing the canopy from total collapse. Once the canopy was at eye level two things became really obvious. 1) How near the structure was to total collapse. 2) How badly made the bed was. The dome of the canopy is made out of cheap wood, it's really thin and crackly and crumbly, totally lacking in inner strength. This also means that there is nothing solid to fix anything to the canopy. Unusually, there is no structure to support the dome which means that there is nothing to stop it from collapsing inwards. Ian thinks that the collapse may have even begun as early as ten years after it was first built. So, 290 years later a lot of the bed is really sagging.



The Sagging Bed Canopy. Previous conservators glued fabric to the structure to hold it together

Ian has been really ingenious in making a light weight "super structure" which he has used to
a) hoist up sagging parts of the canopy b) prevent any further collapse c) eventually fix the rods and bolts and hook necessary to raise it back up to and suspend it from the ceiling, and d) raises the cornice to its correct level in relation to the rest of the tester. In its previous displays, as a four-poster bed, the cornice had been too low by 10 cm. We know this because of the difference in width between the inner and outer tester valances.


The Super Structure. Hooks attached to a strong, hollow base lift up and support the sagging canopy. The whole thing will be covered up by the new cornices.

I am sure Ian will post in detail how this marvellous structure works. In the meantime, I have drawn a diagram which explains the basics.



Yesterday the carver and the joiner came to survey and take away one of the cornice pieces that they will be recreating for the bed. Like so much of this bed the cornices are structurally unsound and the crimson velvet has faded to a bogey green colour. Together and under expert guidance the team spotted that there had once been decoration in the cornice panelling.



There are very clear incision marks which leave a pattern in each of the panels. This shows that there was once raised decoration, which would have been covered in velvet and trimmed with gold braid to match the rest of the cornice.



On one of the panels it is clear to see that new wood has been inserted. However, the decoration was not replaced and it was probably at this stage that the decoration on all of the other panels was removed. This was probably done to save money or to create a consistent look. Close inspection of the upholstered panels reveal that plain velvet panels were added at a later date.



I can't emphasise enough how exciting this all is. We have learnt more about how the bed originally looked. The watchword of this project has been to follow the evidence. This means that we will include the lost decoration on the newly carved cornices therefore returning the bed to how it originally appeared in c1710. It's amazing how a fresh look at an object after thirty years can bring new insights and new discoveries. I wonder what other secrets this bed holds.


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Francisco de Goya's Circus Lady



While documenting works purchased by the Leeds Art Collection Fund as part of my internship I came across a piece of work by Francisco de Goya with three different titles: The Circus Lady, and Skating on Thin Ice and also, my particular favourite, Punctual Folly. I was aware that alternative titles were often given to art works, but the weirdness of these three and the image of the curiously demure yet daredevilish lady astride her equally fearless horse compelled me to look a little further into the matter.

The image was produced as part of a series called Los Proverbios (proverbs) and was only published after the death of the artist. The title of the series and that of each image were in fact given by the publishing house. Goya’s fascination with human behaviour and the excesses that provailed at the time of Carnival, a celebration held throughout Europe in the severn days leading up to Lent sheds a little light on his interest in the circus lady. Whether it was Goya’s intention or the publisher’s interpretation, many of the images seem to be warning against the perils of reckless behaviour and selfish acts; however, connections between Goya’s work and the chosen proverbs have since been put into question. As it has been found inscribed on some of the images earliest impressions, the title Disperates is now often used to refer to the series. In Spanish the word disparate can denote something nonsensical, irrational or outragous and therefore in many ways seems far more appropriate. Yet, for me, despite their dubious origins, the titles given under the heading Los Proverbios only add to the charming quality of the The Circus Lady and the disperate character of this fascinating set of works.

Written by Helen Deevy, Leeds Art Collection Fund Intern, 2010


Friday, 19 November 2010

A Puzzling Process

An important part of the numismatic cataloguing that is being done at the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre is to assign catalogue numbers to coins that have not been listed already. Some of these coins are completely unknown, some are partially identified and some are wrongly identified! For me one of the biggest joys of numismatic research is the puzzle-solving that is involved in narrowing down ‘a coin’ to its very specific classification. So if you like crosswords and sudoku, follow this …

Obverse and Reverse:

To begin with what can we tell from this piece of an ancient coin? Luckily in 1988, a H. Williams classified some of the collection of Roman coins of England, so we know that this piece is an antonianus (a smaller denomination than the more familiar denarius) of Carausius, who was emperor of Britain from 287–293 AD. Beyond this there was little information.

The coin itself is worn and corroded so at a first glance it is easy to assume that there is little more information to be gleaned from the piece, yet there is enough detail remaining for us to do just that.

Close examination of the obverse shows that most of the inscription and much of the head is missing from the fragment, but for many coins, what the bust is wearing is as equally important for classification as the head and the wording around it. The clarity of the neck and shoulders shows that the bust was draped – a toga – but most importantly it shows that the bust is NOT cuirassed (armoured). The part of the head that we can see shows a radiate crown (the zig-zags), rather than a laurel wreath.

The reverse shows Pax holding a sceptre and an olive branch. Pax is the Roman personification of peace and is a common motif on the coins of Carausius. In fact the majority of antoniani that Leeds Museum holds feature Pax. What is most important about the depiction of Pax is that way the sceptre is held: it is held transversely across the body of Pax. This a rarer form of the Pax reverse type. The next important information we can glean from the reverse is that the mint-marks are just visible, with a S to the left of Pax and a P to the right.

Now we have four important numismatic characteristics for this coin:
Bust is not cuirassed.
Bust wear a radiate crown.
Pax holds her sceptre across her body
Mint-mark are S and P, either side of Pax’s body.

After this careful examination of the coin, we can begin to consult the reference volumes!

The main reference work for the coins of Carausius is found in volume V of Mattingley and Sydenham’s ‘Roman Imperial Coinage’ (RIC). What can be even more puzzling is that numismatic reference works can often seem to be written in a type of code. If you look at the page below, you see in the field labelled ‘obverse’ there is a number and then some letters. The number relates to the most common inscriptions, from 1 to 9; the letters relate to the types of bust and go from A to G.

This page list the types of Pax holding a transverse sceptre, from which we can narrow down the obverse types.

As the inscription is illegible we need to narrow down the letters that refer to the types of bust. For the ‘tranverse Pax’ types there are three possible bust types - A, C and F:
A: Radiate, draped bust, facing right.
C: Radiate, draped and cuirassed bust, facing right.
F: Radiate, cuirassed bust, facing r.

Immediately, since we know the bust is not cuirassed, we need to now only consider numbers from the page that are type A. So rather than us having to choose between numbers 118 – 123, our choice is now limited to 120 or 123.

Now we consult the page again, this time looking at the mint-marks column. Mint-marks have a special notation, to show where on the coin they are found:
Left reverse image│Right reverse image
Under reverse image

So we need to look to see if either 120 or 123 have mint mark notation like S│P. From that we can see that the piece is best categorised as number 123. In the Museum catalogue all our research is then written as RIC Carausius/123, showing the reference work, the emperor and the number to consult.

Why is this important I hear you ask?

It is important because the more pieces that are individually and correctly identified, the more detailed our knowledge of particular coinages becomes. When contextualised as part of the economic and political history for a particular time and place, then it greatly adds to what we already know.

Part of the joy of this internship is the process of sorting out the puzzle. Using skills of examination and deduction to get to a result, in this case a result no-one had reached before, is loads of fun!
LEEDM.N.2010.0020.009
Author: Lucy Moore, Leeds Museums and Galleries Intern 2010



Thursday, 18 November 2010

Great Ape Collar Bone

Whilst examining the fascinating and varied animal osteological collection at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, I came across a rather unusual clavicle or collar bone. The bone was from a Great Ape, probably either a chimp or a gorilla and whilst this bone is nothing unusual, it caught my eye due to the pathologies present.


The clavicle had been broken and may have not been set causing an infection in the bone. It is even possible that this active infection killed the ape and caused it to be part of the collection!
To me this is one of the most interesting remains because it allows us a short glimpse into the life of this animal and how inadequate medical attention possibly caused its untimely death. What caused the break, I’m not entirely sure, but it could be a fall which can cause this type of fracture in humans.

Object Number: LEEDM.C.2010.925

By Sam Carter (intern with the natural science department, Summer 2010)


Sunday, 14 November 2010

Marquetry research, part 2: Chippendale's marquetry revealed



Jack Metcalfe and Dr. Heinrich Piening undertaking colour and dye analysis on the Chippendale writing table at Temple Newsam House.


Continuing on from Marquetry research, part 1: Some of Chippendale's furniture exhibits the finest English marquetry created, and stands with the best anywhere in the world. Jack decided for his next project he would research, catalogue, and do a technical analysis of every known piece of Chippendale marquetry, with a view to a second book. For the project, in addition to the research and cataloguing, he and a colleague are making a precise copy of the celebrated Diana and Minerva commode at Harewood House.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/programmes/peoplesmuseum/week3_06.shtml
Another feature is the virtual recolouring of the faded colours of the Chippendale pieces researched.
The technical analysis has involved the use of an technique pioneered by Dr. Heinrich Piening, Senior Furniture Conservator and Scientist, Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlischen Schlosser, Munich, whom Jack met at the conference in Sweden
http://www.schloesser.bayern.de/
Heinrich presented in Sweden a stimulating paper on his recent research into identifying dyestuffs used on antique marquetry work, without affecting the integrity of the original work. UV-VIS Spectronomy (ultra-violet, visual) is a scientific technique that produces a white light across the specimen of veneer under test, at opposing angles of 0º and 45º, for a period of 50 milliseconds, whereupon some of the white light is absorbed and some is reflected. The reflected light is detected and split by a spectrometer. This in turn produces a unique wavelength for the dye pigment lurking below the veneer surface. The wavelength can later (back at the laboratory), be run against a computer library of known dye pigments, until a matching wavelength is obtained. In layman’s language matching wavelengths against library copies can be likened to finger printing or DNA.
In February 2008 Jack arranged for Heinrich to visit Leeds to test a range of marquetry furniture made by Thomas Chippendale between 1770 -1775, held at various locations across Yorkshire. The results of those tests will be an integral part of Jack's next book, titled “Chippendale Marquetry Revealed” due for publication around mid 2011. In addition, Heinrich carried out tests on a table made by the London-based French cabinet-maker Pierre Langlois around the same period. The table, forming part of the Temple Newsam collection includes marquetry motifs of floral work together with other neo-classical musical images.

The test results matched the same dyestuffs found on furniture made by Chippendale, suggesting that both London-based workshops purchased veneers already dyed from a central source. This makes sense since the dyeing process is as specialised in its application as it is in its equipment to perform the processes, therefore making it unlikely that either furniture maker would be sufficiently geared up or knowledgeable enough to dye their own veneers. This probably holds true for the whole trade, with dyed veneers being supplied by specialists.




Some of results of the Spectronomy tests on the Langlois table are as follows.


  1. Acanthus leaves framing the centre panel – Indigo carmine + barberry = green

  2. Ribbon above the acanthus leaves – wig tree = yellow

  3. same as 1.

  4. Flower outer petals attached to ribbon Brazil + wig tree = orange

  5. flowers right & left of 4 – brazil = red

  6. music sheets – no result = plain holly - colour white

  7. Inside left hand trumpet – wig tree = yellow

  8. Outside left hand trumpet – wig tree = yellow

  9. sheet music - same as 6

  10. Harp frame – barberry = yellow

  11. Harp strings – brazil+ barberry = orange or reddish?

Posted by Ian Fraser



Marquetry research, part 1





















Lifelong Leeds resident Jack Metcalfe has, since taking early retirement, devoted his time to studying and learning the art of marquetry, the making of decorative images in wood veneers. This art, or craft, has been practiced for centuries, and is usually used to decorate and embellish furniture. Jack has achieved a high level of proficiency and is a published author. His book The Marquetry Course has sold well in Europe, and particularly in North America. http://www.the-marquetry-course.net/
Since 2004 Jack has been getting his head around the marquetry that Thomas Chippendale decorated his furniture with. The trigger for this was the conservation treatments undertaken to the Harewood House writing table now in the collections at Temple Newsam House. During treatment, as various veneers had to be lifted for re-fixing, it became clear what the original colour scheme was. Holly, dyed greens, reds, purples, and its natural white, make up the vase and swags. The background uses the natural colours of Indian rosewood, tulipwood and satinwood. We mapped the colours.







Excited by the thought of the original polychrome appearance we did a little research into historic dyes, then dyed some holly to match the colours uncovered. For example, the greens are produced by an infusion of powdered Barberry bark and a pinch of turmeric (yellows), with vitriolated indigo (blue). It was possible to control the depth of green with the indigo. The purple of the vase, reminiscent of porphory, was successfully done with brazilwood dye. These dyes are plant derived. The scarlet red of historic textiles was often achieved with cochineal, derived from a species of Latin American beetle, with tin chloride as the mordant. We did the same and an amazing red resulted. With prolonged warm soaking the vital factor of full dye penetration was accomplished.
http://www.irg-wp.com/IRG41-Presentations/IRG%2010-20434.pdf



























Jack then set to work making a copy of a door in what we are tolerably certain are the original colours, though perhaps not the original dyestuffs. The difference between new and old is amazing. The effects of oxidation, and bleaching from light and ultraviolet radiation have caused the colours to merge; light woods darken; dark woods and dyes fade, until everything is various shades of brown. I think sometimes it is difficult for us to comprehend how incredibly colourful some historic objects were; textiles and marquetry in particular. Jack gave a paper on this work and flew the flag for Temple Newsam at a marquetry conference in Sweden in May 2007, which also led to useful leads and contacts.


The next chapter of Jack's quest gets more interesting as he digs deeper into Chippendale's marquetry.

Posted by Ian Fraser


Friday, 5 November 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I am reminded regularly of the extraordinary variety of items in the collections at Leeds Museums and Galleries, like the exquisitely made and highly significant Harrison precision pendulum-clock






Il Buono


(picture by Jeff Darken)





And the Hinton House state bed, whose tester, the original construction of which is so poor that it was collapsing under its own weight, and it requires, essentially, re-engineering, giving it the structure it never had. The new structure supporting the collapsing parts will be entirely hidden behind the cornice.











Il Cattivo






































And these examples of Victorian excess, papier-mache furniture, lacquered and heavily decorated with mother of pearl inlay and painted floral images. They remind me of the Little Britain character Bubbles De Vere, pretentious and tasteless.









Il Brutto


















Posted by Ian Fraser









Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The white heat of 18th century technology (Britain's Got Brains)













































This is the world's first equatorially mounted telescope, an exquisitely made object made by one of the most eminent clock and scientific instrument makers of the 18th century, Henry Hindley of York.













It is part of the historic collections of Burton Constable Hall, with whom Temple Newsam House and Leeds Museums and Galleries has a close working relationship. It has recently been at the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre so that Matthew Read, clocks programme tutor at West Dean College, could inspect and assess it for Burton Constable's curatorial team. It requires conservation treatment and will be a likely candidate for a PRISM grant.










Exquisitely made, one wonders how they were able to achieve such incredible fineness and accuracy. It was made to measure transits of heavenly bodies such as the moons of Jupiter, Venus etc. All part of the star mapping, astronomy, navigation, map-making endeavour, gentlemen scientists around the UK, such as William Constable, undertaking their observations and sharing them. It is missing its drive motor entirely, however. It would have been essentially a clock mechanism, weight driven, and pendulum controlled, that compensated for the rotation of the Earth, to allow the telescope to track the transit with the factor of the Earth's rotation removed from the equation. Telescopes of these types were mounted parallel to the equator.








Interesting fact: the cross-hairs on graticules of this period are made from spider silk. A graticule is simply a piece of thin glass with reference marks on it, usually a grid, in order to have fixed references to measure against. They are needed in telescopes and microscopes if one is trying to measure a distance, or movement. In the store at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre we had for a time together two items representing the white heat of 18th century technology, this telescope and the Harrison clock. They were both cutting edge stuff, the rocket science of that time, one for mapping the heavens, the other for precision timekeeping.






Harrison clock pictures courtesy of Jeff Darken.




















































video












video

Posted by Ian Fraser



A Little Treasure: Striking Ancient Coins

Have you ever wondered how the designs that we see every day on our loose change arrive there?

A small piece of metal (FLAN) is placed between two surfaces that have the designs engraved on them. These are known are DIES. There is an obverse die that has the design for the "front" of the coin on it, and a reverse die that has the "back" of the coin on it. The flan is put between them and hit very hard - this is called striking the coin. Nowadays the process is entirely mechanised and several coins can be struck in quick succession. But in the past the process was carried out entirely by hand. The design was engraved into the die by hand, the flan cut by hand and the flan was hammered between the dies to make a coin.

Easy-peasy you may think. However, in order for the design to appear the right way up, it had to be engraved backwards onto the die. This is fine for pictures and so on, but the majority of coins include inscriptions of one kind or another, and writing backwards, legibly and artistically, is very difficult to do indeed. Furthermore, it's not called striking the coin for nothing - quite a lot of force is needed for the impression to be made evenly on both sides of the coin. Mistakes can sometimes happen ...

Look carefully at this denarius. It is a double-strike.


What has happened here is that the flan was struck twice, but between strokes moved around several degrees on the die. The female figure is not meant to have two faces. She is Pietas, the personification of duty to the state and the gods, not Janus (famously two-faced) and god of thresholds. On the reverse, there is only meant to be one caduceus (two snakes wrapped around a single staff).

All double-strikes are unique. So nowhere else in the world is there another denarius like this one.

Yet, double-striking is a fairly common mistake to find on coins, both ancient and modern, so not much extra value is added to the piece. For me, an extraordinary amount of value is added as this small coin shows us that mistakes from the past can still be seen today. Ancient people weren't perfect and in 48 BC a moneyer working in Rome messed up the design on a coin. It didn't effect the value and I'm sure this coin was circulated, but it is a very tangible way of connecting with the past. After all, mistakes are only human!
Accession number: LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6137
Author: Lucy Moore, Leeds Museums and Galleries Intern 2010



Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Lanuvium Marbles return to Leeds!

Five of Leeds City Museum’s star objects have just returned after being on display in an international exhibition for most of the year.

The Lanuvium marbles are a group of life-size torsos of Roman cavalrymen and horses dating to the 1st century BC. They were discovered in the ancient town of Lanuvium, 20 miles from Rome, in the 1880s. There would have been at least nine statues in the sculptural group, although we don’t know how they originally stood. They may have been commissioned to commemorate the victory of the Roman general Lucullus in Asia Minor in the Second Mithridatic War, and erected in Lanuvium, his home town.

The marbles were brought back to Leeds by Sir John Savile Lumley (later Lord Savile), who carried out excavations at various sites in Italy, including Lanuvium, while he was British Ambassador to Rome. He divided the archive of finds between Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society and the British Museum in London in 1896.

As well as marble statues we have about 750 other objects from Lanuvium in the Leeds Museums and Galleries collection.

Above: Three marbles on display in the Ancient Worlds gallery, Leeds City Museum.
The marbles have been on loan to the Musei Capitolini in Rome for their L’eta della conquista [The Age of Conquest] exhibition which ran from March until September 2010. In the exhibition they were reunited with 3 other sculptures from the Lanuvium group on loan from the British Museum.

Right: The marbles on display in the Capitoline Museum, Rome, Sept 2010

The marbles have just returned to Leeds City Museum after being carefully packed and crated up by a specialist moving company in Rome, and transported back to the UK.

You can now see five of the marbles on display in Leeds City Museum on either side of the main foyer stairs and in the Ancient Worlds gallery. Entry to Leeds City Museum is FREE.

Author: Katherine Baxter, Curator of Archaeology, Leeds Museums and Galleries



A Zoo in my Roman Pocket

Take the change out of your pocket or your purse and look carefully at it. What can you see? Some hind legs? A lion? A unicorn? If you look carefully at the coins in your pocket, you'll see a range of animals begin to emerge from the designs on them, but did you know that there were even more animals on Roman coins than there are on our own?

As part of my internship at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre I am working on cataloguing some of the Numismatics collections and have been photographing and identifying Roman Republic coinage from 78 BC to 37 BC. What has struck me as unusual are some of the animals shown on the coins. Roman moneyers often chose mythological motifs for the reverse side of their coins, and it is to these myths that many of the animals allude. For example, the Erymanthian boar below refers to the Fourth Labour of Hercules, where he had to capture this huge boar alive.

LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6264 REVERSE:


Some animals, however, symbolised places or deeds. The camel, for example, symbolised Arabia and this coin celebrated the surrender of King Aretas of Nabataea to Praetor M. Aemilius Scaurus. The camel is being held by the reins, but the figure holding onto it is also offering the camel an olive branch, showing conquest as well as peace.

LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6192 OBVERSE:

Some seemingly simple designs have a complicated story. Here we see a denarius with a girl facing a snake on the reverse. This refers to the practise within the worship of Juno Sospita at Lanuvium, where in order to ascertain how fruitful the coming year would be a girl was chosen who offered a cake to the snake at the temple. If the snake accepted the cake, it showed the girl was a virgin and augered well for the coming year. If the snake refused the cake, the reverse was true.

LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6222 REVERSE:

It is not just creatures from land that feature on Roman coins. Dolphins and seahorses are shown too. Both are associated with the god Neptune. On the coin below, Neptune is shown riding in a biga (chariot) drawn by seahorses.

LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6081 REVERSE:

In the next image the dolphin is shown next to an eagle. Here, the dolphin symbolises control over different realms, because the Romans realised that although dolphins swam in the sea, they breathed air, so were at home in two spheres. This is pertinent as the mint that produced the coin moved alongside the campaigns of Pompey. In March of 49 BC (when his coin was minted), Pompey had just fled from Caesar at Brudnisum, fleeing by sea to Epirus in Roman Greece. So by using the iconography of a dolphin, Pompey's mint puts on a show of control and fortune, that perhaps was absent in reality.


LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6245 REVERSE:


Lastly, and most surprisingly of all, is an image I found of a scorpion. (You can see it in the bottom left corner, underneath the horses' hooves.)

LEEDM.N1854.0038.6192 REVERSE:

I hope you've enjoyed a short tour of the zoo that could be found in the pocket of a Roman - quite a wealthy one I should add!

Author: Lucy Moore, Leeds Museums and Galleries intern 2010




Cataloguing the Dalton Parlours archive

I have just completed a 6 week internship at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre cataloguing archaeological finds from Dalton Parlours, the site of a Roman villa near Wetherby. I have had the chance to handle a variety of interesting objects including glassware, pottery, and jewellery as well as different kinds of metal instruments and tools.

This internship has given me a valuable insight into the world of museums and galleries with particular emphasis on properly storing and caring for collections. What has struck me in particular is the vast number of objects that can be excavated from just one archaeological site but, as in the case of Dalton Parlours, only a tiny proportion of a collection actually goes on public display. Accessibility to museum stores and archives therefore allows the general public to understand and be aware of the importance of using collections for the purposes of research and education.

While at first glance some glass beads, a piece of pottery or an iron bucket handle may not immediately stand out as fascinating objects, these fragments were once part of a whole, be it a necklace, a large pot or an iron bucket, and were used by ordinary people on a daily basis. While working on the catalogue, I came across several pots that are in many pieces. When I found some pots that were mostly intact, it gave me a better understanding of the kinds of vessels used in everyday life during the period that Dalton Parlours was in use [200 - 370AD] and that each individual object has its own story.

A number of objects from Dalton Parlours are on display in Leeds City Museum. The remainder of the archive is housed in Leeds Museum Discovery Centre and can be viewed by appointment.

Vessel: LEEDM.D.2008.0001.274
Bucket handle: LEEDM.D.2008.0001.312

Author: Verity Smith, Leeds Museums and Galleries Intern 2010