BY CURTIS RUNNELS – PRISCILLA MURRAY
Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University and an expert in Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, and his wife Priscilla Murray, an anthropologist and Classical archaeologist, here contribute to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about their purchase of a sketchbook from the early 20th century with watercolors depicting places and people on Crete.
We visited an antiquarian bookfair in Concord, New Hampshire, about twelve years ago and a booth belonging to a dealer from Vermont, who specialized in original artwork, caught our eye. Sorting through piles of miscellaneous materials, we found a few things relating to Greece, and a small (8 by 4 inches; 20 x 10 cm) artist’s sketchbook grabbed our attention. It was displayed on a table opened to a watercolor view that seemed familiar. Surely it was the entrance to the harbor at Herakleion on Crete! And indeed, penciled in one corner was the inscription “Candia,” the older name for the city which both confirmed the identification and provided a clue that the sketchbook, as dealers in antiques like to say, “had some age.” There were other artworks in the sketchbook that are dated to April 1905, and still others with various dates in 1915, and one dated to 1916. The artwork from 1905 was the most interesting for us. Turning the pages of the sketchbook we saw line drawings of dancers at Knossos and a man drawing water from a well in Siteia, pastels of houses labeled Knossos and “Sitia, as well as watercolors and line drawings of Mykonos, Ios, and other Cycladic islands, Sounion, and Athens. The unknown artist was interested particularly in the new Minoan finds from Knossos as is evident from the line drawings of wall paintings and artifacts in the “Candia Museum.”
Although there is no artist’s signature, we guessed that the artist must be someone interesting, perhaps even someone we would recognize. After all, how many Americans or British travelers (the fact that the titles are in English is the reason for assuming the nationality of the artist) were sufficiently interested in Knossos and the Minoans to visit Crete in 1905 at a time when there was much unrest on the island? We bought the sketchbook and took it home to do more research.Read the rest of this entry »
Following the Cretan revolt of 1896, six Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and England) sent a squadron of warships to Crete in early 1897 to maintain the fragile peace between the Muslim and the Christian communities. France appointed Admiral Édouard Pottier (1839-1903) to lead her naval forces. The French division included Colonel Émile-Honoré Destelle (1856-1944), who brought previous experience in the colonies of New Calydonia and Madagascar. The Colonel disembarked on Crete in February of 1897 to supervise the administration of the eastern part of the island.
I would not have known about Destelle had I not come across the publication of his military diaries from 1897 and 1898 on a recent visit to the Historical Museum in Herakleion (a must for anyone visiting Crete). Edited by his grandson Jean-Pierre Destelle and translated into Greek by Emmanuela Tzedaki with a thorough commentary by Maria Sorou, and published by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies in 2018-2019, Destelle’s diaries document in great detail his administrative activities, as well as everyday life in East Crete just before the island was declared an autonomous state under the protection of the Great Powers. For me, after excavating and traveling in the regions of Siteia and Ierapetra for the past three decades, Destelle’s descriptions offered unique glimpses into Crete’s pre-industrial past. (The Destelle family maintains an excellent web page.)
Destelle’s diaries became my evening companion during my six weeks on Crete this summer, while participating in the Mochlos excavations. I was digging a Hellenistic fort on the summit of Mochlos, trying to understand how it functioned and which city it served, and Destelle was describing the daily activities of an army camp in the same region more than a hundred years ago. I mined the pair of books for ethnographic information, especially communications, since transportation on Crete before the early 20th century was hardly any different from that of ancient times.Read the rest of this entry »