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Princeton University Art Museum presents City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus
Cypriot, 4th century b.c.e.: Pendant of Erotes from a Necklace. Gold with paste; h. 7.31 cm. (pendant), weight 3.2 grams. London, British Museum (1891.8-6.88 [pendant). © The British Museum / British Museum Images.

PRINCETON, NJ.- City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus examines the unique and compelling art and archaeology of early Cyprus, as seen in a single site, Polis Chrysochous—a place rich in history, architecture, and art, and a meeting place of cultures and religions from the Iron Age to the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and medieval periods. The exhibition, held exclusively at the Princeton University Art Museum from Oct. 20, 2012 to Jan. 20, 2013, marks a quarter-century of excavation by the Princeton Department of Art and Archaeology, under the direction of William A. P. Childs, professor emeritus and co-curator of the exhibition. It is the fruit of a groundbreaking international collaboration between Princeton University, the Republic of Cyprus, the British Museum and the Musée du Louvre.

The modern town of Polis Chrysochous, in northwest Cyprus, lies above the city of Arsinoe, founded in the Hellenistic period, and the earlier city-kingdom of Marion. Prior to Princeton’s involvement at Polis, excavations dating back to 1885 revealed hundreds of tombs that contained exquisite Greek vessels, intricately crafted gold jewelry and handsome funerary sculpture. Since 1983, Princeton excavations have uncovered the remains of many ancient settlements, including sanctuaries, public buildings, workshops, and private residences, making it possible to trace the trajectory of human habitation in this area from the pre-Classical to the medieval period—from the 20th century B.C.E. to the 20th century C.E.

City of Gold includes 110 objects, most of which have never been exhibited, including large-scale stone and terracotta sculptures and architectural fragments, terracotta statuettes and figurines, wall paintings, gold and silver jewelry, faience, seals, coins, ceramics and bronzes. The treasures uncovered in the early excavations and over the past 25 years are exceptionally rich in visual and historical interest, while the extraordinary documentation of the site makes it possible to provide contextualized displays, informed by fresh scholarly research, that brings to life the beliefs, aspirations and daily lives of the ancient inhabitants of this cultural nexus in the eastern Mediterranean. Maps, photographs and three-dimensional building re-creations set the scene for the superb artifacts from Polis over the centuries—Cypriot, Greek, Phoenician, Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine, Lusigan, Venetian, Ottoman and British—dating back to the 7th century B.C.E. Objects are on loan from the Department of Antiquities in Lefkosia (Nicosia), Cyprus, which holds the material from the Princeton-led excavations, the British Museum in London and the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Material uncovered by the Princeton team, along with finds from earlier German, British, Cypriot and Swedish archaeologists, allows us to see not only the rich artistry of an ancient city, but also the history and methodology of its archeological excavation. According to James Steward, director of the Princeton University Art Museum, “City of Goldsheds light on the evolution of Classical archaeology over the past 125 years, from its birth as an antiquarian endeavor to a wide-ranging field embracing modern approaches in art history, epigraphy, philology and social history, while also affording glimpses into the unique and beautiful work coming from Cyprus as a crossroads of the ancient world. The artifacts and the original research presented in this exhibition deepen our understanding of the strategic and cultural importance of Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean across a remarkably broad swath of human history.” Steward concluded, “This exhibition is an important opportunity to learn more about the field of archaeology and how this extraordinary material helps us understand an ancient city and the beliefs and sensibilities of its inhabitants.”

Co-curators of the exhibition are William A. P. Childs, professor emeritus of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, and director of the Princeton Cyprus Expedition excavations in Polis Chrysochous; J. Michael Padgett, curator of Ancient Art at the Princeton University Art Museum and a participant in the excavations at Polis since 1996; and Joanna S. Smith, assistant director of the Princeton Cyprus Expedition and associate professional specialist in the Department of Art and Archaeology, who has worked on the excavations at Polis since 1988. The three have co-edited a scholarly volume with five expansive essays and catalogue entries for the 110 objects in the exhibition. The volume is being published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press.

A book featuring photographs by the late Elisabeth Childs of the people and places of the Chrysochou Valley, affording valuable ethnographic information about the region, also is slated for publication. A selection of Ms. Childs’s photographs will be on view in the Department of Art and Archaeology during the run of the Museum’s exhibition.

Notes exhibition co-curator Michael Padgett, “This exhibition is not only about the discovery of the ancient cities that lie beneath the soil of Polis Chrysochous, but also about the growth of archaeology itself, from the poorly documented digs of the 19th century to the rigorous standards of modern excavation. That this development can be charted with works of such interest and quality is a testament to the important legacy of this ancient crossroads, truly a City of Gold.”

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