George Mylonas: Cyprus, land of Europe

An exhibition entitled “Mapping Cyprus 1191- 2012 Crusaders – Traders and Explorers” opened at the Brussels Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, in view of the assumption of the EU Presidency by Cyprus on the 1st of July.

St. Mamas Limassol

The exhibition at the Bozar Museum, where cultural activities of international level are hosted, presents Cyprus through historical moments and the island’s most important Byzantine and post-Byzantine art. It also describes the island’s relations with Europe and how these have been recorded by major European artists.

More than 140 objects, including rare medieval manuscripts, paintings, maps, engravings, and icons have been brought together. The exhibition has been expanded to include artefacts from Europe, produced by artists who were attracted by the legends and beauty of Cyprus. Famous painters such as Titian and Tintoretto, as well as cartographers like Munser, Waldseemiller, and Sonnetti produced splendid works that referred to Cyprus.

The exhibition opens with the period of Frankish (i.e. Western) domination inaugurated by Richard the Lionheart in 1191. Richard sold Cyprus to Guy de Lusignan, who founded an independent kingdom that lasted for nearly three centuries (1192-1489). Venice was the next owner, before the island was seized by the Ottomans in 1571. They, in turn, ceded it in 1878 to the British, who recognised its independence in 1960.

The exhibition reflects this exceptional cultural interchange, which radiated throughout Europe and saw the interpenetration of Byzantine, Western, and Venetian art. It includes some fifty icons, geographical maps, and paintings belonging to the last queen of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, and to the Venetian period, as well as two special thematic rooms devoted to Shakespeare’s Othello and to the music of the Lusignan court. The latter is represented by extracts from the Cypriot-French Codex, composed in the 15th century for King Janus, as performed by Paul Van Nevel and his Huelgas Ensemble.

The inauguration ceremony was attended, inter alia, by European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Sport, Media and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou, Cypriot Ambassador in Brussels Athina Mavronicola, Cypriot officials from the Ministry of Education and Culture, Pavlos Paraskevas, Director of the Cultural Services of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Paul Dujardin, CEO of the Centre for Fine Arts, Cypriot and foreign diplomats, members of the press, artists etc.

In her speech at the public opening of the exhibition, Commissioner Vassiliou said that this “exciting exhibition on `Mapping Cyprus`” opens only ten days before Cyprus takes over for the first time the EU Presidency – “a moment of great pride for Cypriots”. “I say special because it is not often that an exhibition presents both the history of a country and the contemporary views of its artists”, she said.

Europeans, she noted, share a common cultural heritage and history, shaped by movements of peoples and exchanges between different cultures. “And the exhibition wonderfully reflects this interplay between histories and cultures”, the Commissioner said.

In her speech, Vassiliou pointed out that in the geopolitical and social dialogue observed in the works of the exhibition, the artists convey the richness of the civilisations that have inhabited the island of Cyprus and the conflicts between communities that this has generated. “But they also convey a message of optimism that different communities can live together in peace”, she went on to say. She expressed the view that the above point is powerful and important as it illustrates art’s capacity to build bridges between the past and present, and between different groups of people.

The exhibition is organized by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Bozar Museum. Curator of the ancient art exhibition is Loukia Loizou Hadjigavriel, curator of the contemporary art exhibition is Androula Michael while the Scenography was prepared by Jan Thomaes and the coordinator of the exhibitions is Alberta Sessa.

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