- Also known as
Luigi Palma di Cesnola
primary name: Cesnola, Luigi Palma di
- individual; military/naval; archaeologist; curator; Italian; American (USA); Male
- Life dates
- Italian-American solider (though his rank of General is probably fictitious), diplomat and antiquarian whose collection - mainly assembled on Cyprus between 1865 and 1876 when he served as American Consul, based in Larnaca - formed the basis of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York of which he was Director from 1879 down to his death in 1904. Material from his various collections arrived in the British Museum between 1871 and 1982.
Parts of his collection began to appear at auction in London, Paris and elsewhere from at least 1869, from which various collectors acquired items that were later donated, sold or bequeathed to the BM. These include Felix Slade (q.v.) and Augustus Franks (q.v.). His first major collection, found at one or more sanctuaries near Atheniou in Cyprus in 1870, was exhibited in Rollin & Feuerdent's showrooms in Great Russell Street - directly opposite the Museum gates - in 1872. This was apparently to show them off to the Trustees, but no formal offer was made to sell them to the Museum (despite Cesnola's claims to the contrary). The collection was instead acquired by the recently-estabished Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
His second major collection, including the fictitious 'Curium Treasure' (in reality an assemblage of grave goods of various periods and origins acquired around ancient Kourion but also possibly from elsewhere on the island: see Masson 1984), was offered to the BM in 1876 for £10,000. Charles Newton (q.v.) was unable to secure the funds from the Treasury for this purchase and Cesnola instead accepted an offer from the Metropolitan Museum. In the same year however, before negotiations over the main collection, Cesnola deposited some 300 items from his collection at the BM, of which the Trustees acquired some 127 items (GR 1876,9-9. 1-127); other items from the same group were acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and the South Kensington Museum, London. Most of the latter material was transferred to the BM between 1980 and 1982. Additional items once in Cesnola's possession have been acquired by the Museum between the period of his residence on Cyprus and the modern age. These can easily be confused with items in the large collection formed by his younger brother Alessandro (q.v.) in collaboration with his future father-in-law, the financier Sir Edwin Lawrence (q.v.) between 1876 and 1878, especially when they have passed through several owners since first appearing on the market between 1883 and 1892.
Cesnola's extensive correspondence with Charles Newton (q.v.) but especially with his friend Samuel Birch (q.v.), preserved in the Departments of Greece and Rome and Middle East respectively, is of great importance in reconstructing his activities on Cyprus, including the fabrication of the story of the 'Curium Treasure' in 1874-5, but also his more general manner of playing museums and dealers off against each other.
There is an extensive biography on Luigi and his brother Alessandro (q.v.). Elizabeth McFadden's biography of 1971 is somewhat romanticised and not entirely accurate, as she did not have access to all the archival material (especially in the British Museum) but covers his entire life and career. Anna Marangou's work of 2000 is more up to date but mainly consists of a compendium of sources rather than new research. The most detailed and original research on both brothers is that of Olivier Masson who wrote extensively on their activities and, especially important, on the dispersal of their various collections (see a list of his articles in his Festschridt in CCEC 27 (1997), esp. 12-13.
- Goring E. 1988, A Mischievous Pastime. Digging in Cyprus in the Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh: Nationa Museums of Scotland).
Hermary, A. and Mertens, J. 2015, The Cesnola Collection of Cypriot art. Stone Sculpture (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art), 13-17 and passim for the collection.
Karageorghis, V. (with J. Mertens and M. Rose) 2000, Ancient art from Cyprus. The Cesnola Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art), 4-8 and passim.
Marangou A. 2000, The Consul Luigi Palma di Cesnola 1832-1904: Life and Deeds (Nicosia: Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation).
McFadden, E. 1971, The glitter and the gold: A spirited account of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's first director, the audacious and high-handed Luigi Palma di Cesnola (New York).
Masson, O. 1984, "Cesnola et le Trésor de Curium (I-II)', CCEC 1 (1984), 16-25; CCEC 2 (1984), 1-15.
Masson, O. 1984, 'Kypriaka. XVI. Notes sur le "Trésor de Curium"', BCH 108, 77-83.
Masson, O. 1989, ‘Les frères Palma di Cesnola et leur correspondence’ in V. Tatton-Brown (ed.), Cyprus and the East Mediterranean in the Iron Age (London), 84–9.
Masson, O. 1990, ‘Quelques episodes de la vie des frères Palma di Cesnola’, RDAC, 285–97.
Masson, O. 1992, 'Diplomates et amateurs d'antiquités à Chypre vers 1866-1878", Journal des Savants 1992, 123-154.
Masson, O. 1996, ‘La dispersion des antiquités chypriotes: les deux Collections Cesnola’, CCEC 25, 3–27.
Masson O. 1996, ‘Les deux Collections Cesnola: quelques compléments’, CCEC 26, 25–8.
See a full list of Masson's publications on the history of archaeology in Cyprus which sketches the general background to Cesnola's activities in his festschrift in CCEC 27 (1997), esp. 11-13