Cyprus map © Leventis Museu.

Twelve Apostles Emba, Church of Chryseleousa, © Church of Chryseleousa.

Cyprus and Its Turbulent Role in Second Millennium World Culture

Painter of Klonari II, Crucifixion Klonari, Church of St. Nicholas, Diocese of Limassol, © Diocese of Limassol.

St. Mamas Limassol, Church of St. Andronicos and Athanasios, Diocese of Limassol, end of 15th Century.


Painter of kyperounta and Monagri, Virgin with Christ Kyperounta, Ecclesiastical Museum, Diocese of Limassol, © Diocese of Limassol.


23 rue Ravenstein
Mapping Cyprus
Crusaders, Traders and Explorers

June 22-September 9, 2012

The exhibition focuses on Cyprus's position through history as a gateway between East and West. The emphasis is on the medieval period under the Lusignans and the Venetians, when the Byzantine East and the Latin West came together on Cyprus. Running through the exhibition is a selection of more than 50 icons that have been allowed to leave the island. Mapping Cyprus is organised in the context of the first Cypriot presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Cyprus, situated in the far eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, is at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The island was a place of refuge and a bone of contention for the Byzantine East, the Latin West, and the Arab world. Since antiquity, Cyprus's location and natural resources have been a curse and a blessing. The island has been of strategic importance for anyone seeking influence or control over the Mediterranean. All those successive powers and cultures have left traces on political, social, and cultural life on Cyprus. Cyprus is a melting pot, a place of give and take for conquerors, traders, pilgrims, kings, and explorers. The island played a crucial role in the introduction of Western civilisation into the Middle East and beyond, and also in the reverse process.

Mapping Cyprus presents the island's turbulent history chronologically, from occupation by Richard I Lionheart in 1191 to independence in 1960. The exhibition opens with the establishment of the medieval Kingdom of Cyprus, a turning point in the island's history. More than 140 objects, including rare medieval manuscripts, paintings, maps, engravings, and icons are brought together. The exhibition was expanded to include paintings, publications, maps, and artifacts from Europe, produced by artists attracted by the legends and beauty of Cyprus. Painters such as Titian and Tintoretto, and cartographers lMunser, Waldseemiller, and Sonnetti produced works that referred to Cyprus.

Most eye-catching are the more than 50 icons, most of which have never been seen outside the walls of diocesan premises, churches, and monasteries they come from. The icons reflect lives, customs, and the soul of the Cypriots. From 1191 to the end of the 19th century religious icons were the most important form of artistic expression on the island. The Cypriot style, which emerged from the fusing of the long-established tradition of Byzantine and Eastern painting with the aesthetic principals of the (European) Renaissance, is known as the "maniera Cypria" or the Cypriot school.

Loukia Loizou Hadjigavriel, President of the Cypriot National Commission for UNESCO and director of Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia, is curator of the exhibition, which looks at cultural links between Cyprus and Europe in an artistic and historical context, over a period of more than 500 years. In addition, Androula Michael presents a selection of contemporary art at the entrance to Mapping Cyprus.

Frankish period (1192-1489) The start of intensive cultural and economic exchange with Europe.

The exhibition opens with the conquest of Cyprus in 1191 by Richard I Lionheart, who landed on the island in the course of his crusade to Jerusalem. He soon sold the island to the banished king of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, who came from Poitou in France. Guy was the first king of the medieval Kingdom of Cyprus and Nicosia was its capital. His brother Amalric succeeded him, establishing the Roman Church on the island and introducing a feudal system.

There were contacts between Cyprus and Europe since antiquity, but relationships were more intense in the Middle Ages. Intending to organize a ruling class, Lusignans encouraged immigration of members of European nobility. The island was a secure Christian staging post for crusaders, pilgrims, and traders travelling by sea. Cyprus also became a link in international trading between western Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Sugar, wheat, barley, wine, oil, legumes, spices, honey, and salt were popular export products, along with glazed Cypriot tableware and expensive fabrics. Via these contacts Cyprus was connected with flourishing European civilisation, although Greek, Byzantine, and Eastern influences were not obliterated. During this period the island took on an important role as an economic, cultural, and geopolitical bridge between East and West.

In this section of the exhibition there is a particular focus on the story of Mélusine (Melusina), with original 14th-century manuscripts by Jean D'Arras and Jean Coudrette. Mélusine was a mermaid who, according to legend, founded the Lusignan dynasty; her children, it was claimed, were the founders of Europe.

A separate thematic room is devoted to the music of the Lusignan court. The Turin manuscript known as the Franco-Cypriot Codex is an outstanding collection of medieval music, compiled in the 15th century for King Janus of Cyprus. In the exhibition it is possible to see the original manuscript, while listening to excerpts performed by Paul Van Nevel and his Huelgas Ensemble (and on October 15 there is a special concert in the church of Onze Lieve Vrouw ter Kapelle/Notre-Dame de la Chapelle).

A section of Mapping Cyprus focuses on Caterina Cornaro, last queen of medieval Cyprus. Born in Venice in 1454, she was a member of a prosperous Venetian family that owned a large sugar plantation on Cyprus. When her husband, King Jacques II de Lusignan, died unexpectedly, she took the throne. She ruled from 1474 to 1489, when Venice forced her to abdicate. She returned to Venice, where she introduced Cypriot traditions and fashion. The exhibition includes a portrait of her by Tintoretto, as well as her will and a silver wedding spoon.

Venetian period (1489-1571) Material prosperity and artistic exchanges with La Serenissima.

The annexation of Cyprus by Venice began the second phase of the island's Latin period. The annexation took place without bloodshed and fit in with Venetians' expansionist policies: they ran Cyprus as a colony and concentrated on exploitation of, and trade in, the island's natural resources.

A great many Cypriot icon-painters studied in Venice and as a result introduced the style of the Renaissance into traditional icons. In this section of the exhibition, alongside icons, visitors will see a richly decorated door from the Tamassos monastery. European artists, in turn, were fascinated by Cyprus — as can be seen in Titian's painting Jacopo Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos, which can be seen in this part of the exhibition. The Venetian period also had a considerable influence on Cypriot architecture; this is illustrated via maps. Out of fear of an Ottoman attack, the Venetians constructed fortresses all over the island. The walls of Famagusta and Nicosia (built in 1567) are still seen as prototypes of Renaissance military architecture.

Ottoman period (1571-1878) The arrival of Islam and the importance of cartography.

The Great War between the Turks and Western powers began in July 1570 with the siege of the city of Nicosia. When Famagusta too fell in 1571, the island came under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans declared Islam and the Greek Orthodox faith (the Church of Cyprus) to be the only official religions of Cyprus. Latin Christianity was banned and the Latin monasteries and dioceses came into the hands of the Church of Cyprus.

The conquest of Cyprus by the Ottomans was a severe blow to the predominantly religious art of the island. Gothic churches were transformed into mosques and the production of icons could only be undertaken clandestinely or abroad. As a consequence, many artists moved to Venice. The production of icons, however, never ceased: on the island itself the Italo-Byzantine style remained current until the arrival of the Cretan Ioannis Kornaros (1745-1796), through whom the baroque and rococo were introduced, a development that was reflected in icon production.

There was a boom in cartography in the 17th century. The exhibition includes a number of maps of Cyprus by European cartographers.

British period (1878-1960) Back to Europe and rapid modernisation.

A new era began on 5 July 1878 when the island became part of the British Empire and thus came into European hands once more. The United Kingdom needed a military base of operations for the control of the colonial routes via the Suez Canal and Cyprus was seen as being perfectly located for that purpose. At first the British "rented" the island from the Ottomans, but the treaty of Lausanne in 1923 brought Cyprus under official British rule. This period was above all characterised by rapid economic, technical, political, and social changes in the towns and cities.

The rooms in this section of Mapping Cyprus present, among other items, four historical photographic albums that illustrate life in Cyprus in the 19th century. One of these was the work of John Thomson, official photographer to Queen Victoria, who was sent to Cyprus to take pictures of the new acquisition to be shown at home. In addition to photographs of castles, Byzantine churches, and mosques, he was also interested in the "exotic" character of the sun-tanned peasants in the countryside and of unspoilt natural scenery.

Independent Cyprus (1960-today) A turbulent quest for identity.

The independence of Cyprus was declared on July 16, 1960, with the introduction of a constitution that divided political power between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots on a 70 percent-30 percent basis. In 1963 and 1967 brief confrontations between the two communities took place. In 1963 Nicosia was split in two by the "Green Line;" it remains Europe's last divided capital. Since 1964 the United Nations has been responsible for maintaining peace in Cyprus.

The coup d'état against President Makarios on uly 15, 1974 and the subsequent Turkish invasion ruptured the country's unity. Some 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled to the south. Since 1974 the Green Line has divided the island into two parts: a southern Greek-Cypriot part and a northern Turkish-Cypriot part. On May 1, 2004 Cyprus became a member of the European Union, strengthening once more its historical, political, and economic links with Europe.

Nicosia map.


Painter of Klonari II, Nativity Klonari, Church of St. Nicholas, Diocese of Limassol, © Diocese of Limassol.