Ceramic art, craft and tales from Medieval Cyprus posted on 21 June 2012
Glimpses of Medieval Cypriot life and art will be on show this summer at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, in a special exhibition of ceramics from the 13th to 16th centuries.
3 July – 23 September | The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Cyprus Gallery (Room 22)
Exhibition supported by Mr Demosthenis Severis, in honour of Mr Constantine Leventis
Held in partnership with the Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia The 47 works from the Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia, along with 8 from the Fitzwilliam’s own collection, combine colourful glazes with lively ‘sgraffito’ and slip-painted techniques to provide vivid insights into the life and crafts of Medieval Cyprus.
The display celebrates the long-standing relationship between Cambridge University and the Leventis family, whose members are internationally renowned for their wide-ranging philanthropic activities. The A.G. Leventis Foundation sponsored the creation of the Fitzwilliam Museum's Cypriot gallery in 1997 and in 2008 founded the University's A.G. Leventis Professorship of Greek Culture.
Medieval Cyprus was a melting pot of different cultures, influenced by a succession of invaders and occupiers. In 1191 the island was seized from the control of the Byzantine Empire by King Richard the Lionheart of England, on his way to the Holy Land for the Third Crusade.
Richard sold the island on to the deposed King of Jerusalem, the French-born Guy de Lusignan, and Cyprus was rapidly transformed from a Byzantine province into a Medieval French feudal kingdom that lasted for three centuries (1192-1489). It was in this period that most of the pottery on show was produced.
The designs on the pots reflect the life-style of the ruling Frankish class. The women wear fashionable western European dress; the men appear in short tunics with falcons on their wrists; there are also possible wedding scenes, dancers and coats of arms. Birds, fish and other animals are also represented, along with floral and geometric motifs.
The technology behind these ceramics derives from Byzantine traditions, but the Cypriot potters exploited their own excellent clay sources and native ingenuity to develop distinctive local styles. These included ‘sgraffito’ wares, with designs scratched through a thin layer of clay, fired once, then coloured, glazed and fired again. They also were skilled makers of slip-painted wares, creating trails of lighter-coloured clay in decorative patterns on the pots before firing, glazing and firing again. These pots were mostly used as table-wares, though some have been found in graves.
The Leventis Collection of Medieval Cypriot pottery is one of the finest and most extensive in the world. This exhibition provides a rare example to see these ceramics in the UK and to appreciate their unique perspective on medieval Mediterranean life.
Timothy Potts, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum commented: “We're hugely indebted to the generosity of both Demosthenis Severis and the Leventis Municipal Museum for making it possible to display this exhibition in Cambridge this summer. Visitors will be enchanted by the vivid glimpses of life in Medieval Cyprus offered by these beautiful ceramics, which will have special appeal to the many amateur and professional potters working in Britain. At the same time we're delighted to be able to mark the Fitzwilliam's, and the University's, close and continuing friendship with the Leventis family, through an exhibition that explicitly honours the memory of the late Mr Constantine (Dino) Leventis.”
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