Pottery has been produced on Cyprus since 5000 BC. Placed at a junction of trade and cultural influences, ancient Cypriote pottery displays exuberance and imagination in shape and decoration. This jug represents the fashions in pottery during the early Cypro-Archaic period (c. 750–300 BC). Its short neck and globular body contrasts with earlier, slimmer vessels, whilst the ‘free-field’ pictorial decoration, showing a man seizing a bull by the horns, contrasts with earlier ‘Geometric’ styles based on concentric circles and symmetrical shapes. The use of both black-brown and red on the white slip base earns this type of pottery the name, ‘Bichrome ware’.
The Pitt Rivers Museum has 270 examples of Ancient Cypriot pottery. Two thirds, including this example, form part of General Pitt-Rivers’ Founding Collection, which came to Oxford in 1884. The material neatly fitted in with his ‘evolutionary’ classification system, since it could be divided in series that illustrated the move from ‘rude’ Assyrian forms to more refined Greek designs.
Pitt-Rivers never actually visited Cyprus himself but acquired his Cypriote collection indirectly from a pair of private collectors – Italian-American brothers General Luigi and Major Alessandro Palma di Cesnola, who excavated in Cyprus in the mid-19th century. Pitt-Rivers purchased this Cesnola jug at Sotheby’s auction house on 1 May 1871. The Cesnola brothers amassed a huge collection – well over 35,000 pieces – the majority of which ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the remainder dispersed among European museums.