Diplomats visit the British Museum’s AG Leventis Gallery on the history & culture of Cyprus

Diplomats visit the British Museum’s AG Leventis Gallery on the history & culture of Cyprus

The Cyprus High Commission in London recently organised a successful guided visit to the A.G. Leventis Gallery of the British Museum for 24 diplomats and representatives of cultural foundations-members of the International Organisation European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC). The event was part of a broader initiave of the cultural sector of the Commission, headed by the Cultural Counsellor Dr Achilleas Hadjikyriacou, to promote Cyprus History and Culture in the UK with an emphasis on the cultural exchanges that shaped the identity of the island.

Dr Thomas Kiely, the A.G. Leventis Curator of Ancient Cyprus at the British Museum’s Department of Greece and Rome, led the tour to the collection, which is the main showcase for the second largest collection of Cypriot antiquities in the world outside of the Island itself. Dr Kiely explained the origins of the collection in the economic and political conditions of the late Ottoman and early British periods when archaeology was still emerging as a science, and went on to discuss some of the key themes of the island’s long and rich history as illustrated by the objects on display: the importance of copper mining and trade, the distinctive local writing system, and the cosmopolitan yet distinctively Cypriot art styles developed by Cypriot sculptors in response to contacts with their neighbours. The Museum works closely with the Cyprus High Commission to promote knowledge of this unique collection to the widest audience, including among the large and vibrant Cypriot community in the United Kingdom.

The tour continued underground in the Museum’s labyrinthine storerooms, with the assistance of the Curator for Greece and Rome, Dr Dirk Booms. Only around five per cent of the Department’s collection is on display and there are many treasures held in the stores. The group was especially impressed by the fragments of sculpture from famous monuments such as the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos and the Artemision of Ephesos – two of the seven ancient Wonders of the World. This material is part of an active programme of documentation and publication by museum curators, in collaboration with scholars from around the world. In the Cyprus storeroom, the visitors saw fragments of richly painted ancient terracotta statues from the ancient Salamis. These are currently being digitally reconstructed and studied in collaboration with the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia, in a wider initiative to facilitate research and education and to make the collections available to the widest possible audiences across the world.

During lunch, the Cultural Councellor of the Commission, Dr Achilleas Hadjikyriacou, thanked both Dr Kiely and Dr Booms for collaborating in the planning and implementation of this event. Emphasising the importance of Cypriot cultural heritage as a prime example of cultural exchanges in Antiquity, he added “it is our duty to promote our cultural heritage as part of a broader European and World Heritage. The Cyprus Antiquities Collection at the second most visited museum in the world plays a major role in providing an insight to the long history of Cyprus both for the cypriot people of the diaspora and foreigners alike. It demonstrates how the cultural heritage and centuries-long history of Cyprus have been shaped by political, cultural and social developments”.

The positive reception of the event was reflected in the words of the cultural attache of the European Commission, Jeremy O’Sullivan: “Our visit to the Leventis Gallery was superbly organised by the High Commission’s Cultural Counsellor, Dr. Hadjikyriacou. We, my colleagues from EUNIC London and I, were met by the curator Dr Thomas Kiely. Dr Kiely communicated his knowledge and passion for Ancient Cyprus and kept us wrapt with his insights, leavened with irrepressible wit. This was a perfect example of cultural diplomacy in action”.