Cyprus mosaics – the cultural tradition continues…

“ To carry on the cultural heritage of mosaic making in modern materials”, is the vision of Sharen Taylor, mosaic artist in Paphos, Cyprus.

Mosaics, particularly antique mosaics, always fascinate me.

Here are some reasons:

  • The sense of wonder I feel when I look at antique mosaics made in Roman times;  around the 2nd Century AD or about 1,800 years ago, and that they have survived,
  • The artistry in the designs, whether geometric, non figurative or figurative – which still appeal to the modern viewer and are influential in today’s decorative styles,
  • The craftsmanship in making polychromatic illustrations from tiny cubes – 1 cm each side – of natural stone (called tesserae); usually limestone or marble of different colours which remain as vibrant today as the day the stones were laid.   In particular, the skill in applying the stones to the mosaic design in such a way as to provide perspective, texture, and nuance of colour, size and scale,
  • The size of either floor or wall mosaics, which provide the opportunity to tell a story in stone; reflecting contemporary interests in nature, flora and fauna, spectacle, myths, gods and goddesses,
  • The way in which mosaics inform us about the lifestyle, the social and economic standing of the people who lived so long ago  in houses and communities decorated in such beautiful ways; where beauty was a value they appreciated.

In other words, antique mosaics are masterpieces of the ancient world.

In today’s world, Sharen Taylor is inspired to help people appreciate the mosaic art form and also create mosaics with modern materials.   While this is her focus, her creative approach is grounded in the depth and breadth of her knowledge and experience of art history and archeological conservation that she brings to her modern expression of an ancient art.

Sharen graduated from Exeter University with a BA in Fine Arts with a specialty in sculpture.   An interest in antiquities and conservation work led her to a job with the British Museum in London.   While working there, she was sponsored for a Diploma in Archeological Conservation at the Institute of Archeology, London University.

Coming to Cyprus in 1987, she worked on the excavation work at Lemba, near Paphos.   She conducted the conservation work on the cult bowl and figurines found at Kissonerga, which are on permanent display at the Archeological Museum in Nicosia.   During a recent visit to that museum, I took this photograph, thinking how fortunate I am to know the person who did the conservation work on these important artifacts dating back over 4,000 years.

Following this exciting work, Sharen stayed on in Cyprus and worked for the Department of Antiquities as a consultant, including with the Leventis Museum, focusing on metal work and mediaeval pottery.   She also worked for various foreign missions coming to Cyprus on archeological expeditions.   Through this work, Sharen joined the Getty Conservation Institute as a Consultant and Coordinator for Site Conservation training, which focused on conservation on site; important for the integrity of archeological expeditions.   Because of Cyprus’s location at the centre of the Eastern Mediterranean with major archeological finds throughout this geographic area, site conservation training was centred in Cyprus.

Sharen’s professional interest shifted to mosaics when she was asked to conduct a historical survey of the wine harvest mosaic in the atrium of the House of Dionysius at the Nea Pafos Archeological Site, a World Heritage Site, adjacent to the Paphos old Port.  She analyzed each stone in that mosaic! In this photo, she shows her detailed mapping and analysis of those mosaics.

Sharen presented her findings at a conference of the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics in Arles, France in 1999.

She started her mosaic workshop in 2000 and moved to the beautiful, light and airy new building in the Hani Ibrahim Khan Centre near the Municipal Market in Paphos in 2018.   As soon as we entered to workshop to meet with Sharen, I could feel the good energy there.  She focuses on commissions for organizations and private individuals and also teaches children and adults mosaic making, which is how I first became aware of her work.

Coincidentally, in 2013, I wrote about the wine harvest mosaics in a series of 5 posts about Cyprus in which I made the connection between my interest in wine expressed through my wine blog and the wine harvest mosaics!   ( See: Cyprus Wine Making – the ancient world meets the 21st Century: Part One)

https://elizabethsvines.com/2013/01/27/cyprus-wine-making-the-ancient-world-meets-the-21st-century-part-one/

Earlier in this post, I outlined the main reasons that ancient mosaics fascinate me.

A visit to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site illustrates all these aspects.   Each time I visit Cyprus, I take time to enjoy these mosaics, both those in the open air and those in the various excavated houses, including the House of Dionysius, where the wine harvest mosaics pave the atrium.

Imagine welcoming guests to your house if you were the prosperous citizen of Paphos living in this Roman villa.     Your guests would admire these and other mosaic illustrations as they walked across the floor.

Sometimes, I wish I could be a time traveller to quietly observe these scenes!

Any visitor to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site is privileged to be able to see these world heritage mosaics in situ.

Prior to the 1960’s, geometric and non-figurative mosaics were frequently considered of little importance.     Generally, there has been ongoing deterioration and loss of mosaics.   There was a view that there are so many antique mosaics in the Mediterranean region where mosaics are numerous that conservation wasn’t important.

Now there is recognition that cultural heritage is increasingly threatened by rapidly changing physical and geopolitical currents around the world and this emphasizes the need to protect antique sites.

Under the authority of the Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus, systematic excavations started at Neo Pafos in 1962.   In 1980, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.  Nea Pafos continues as a centre of excavation and research by many foreign archeological missions from universities and schools.

As mentioned previously, Sharen presented her paper on the Paphos wine harvest mosaics at The International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM) Conference in 1999, entitled: Mosaics, Conserve to Display.     The ICCM, founded in Rome in 1977, is a voluntary organization registered in Cyprus as a legal entity.   Their role and objectives are, “promoting the broader evolution in the philosophy and practice of heritage conservation in the field of mosaics”.       It is an organization that brings together conservators, archeologists, art historians and architects.       I am grateful to Sharen for making me aware of this organization and its work.

Experiencing antique mosaics connects us to the ancient past at various levels: physical, emotional and at the level of beliefs and values through the stories they tell and the designs they illustrate.

Sharen Taylor, through her knowledge, experience and creativity pays that cultural heritage forward by teaching children to appreciate and create mosaics.     The Hani Ibrahim Khan colourful and imaginative wall mosaic created by children with aged 7 – 11 is a great illustration of this.

Past, present and future:  the cultural tradition of mosaics continues…

References:

Sharen Taylor Mosaics, 15 To Hani Ibraham Khan, 40 Konstantinou Kanari Paphos

Accessible Website via Facebook  Google Sharen Taylor Mosaics.

Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus www.mcw.gov.cy see this site for lots of relevant information including the Neo Paphos Archeological Park

International Committee for Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM)

http://www.iccm-mosaics.org

Getty Conservation Institute   http://www.getty.edu

Cyprus: wild flowers and local markets

Enjoying a morning coffee at our regular coffee bar in the Port area of Paphos is one of our favourite Sunday morning pastimes when in Cyprus.

Needless to say, this is after a good walk along the roughly paved sea walk that surrounds the Paphos Archeological Park.

Buying fruit and vegetables from the friendly stall holders at the Saturday morning Paphos market is another pleasure.

We have been shopping here for years now and there is always a sense of mutual satisfaction when we return:  the same warm, comforting smiles and gestures reciprocated as we recognize each other.   “Ah, you are back/ Ah, you are still here”,  we collectively murmur from the heart.

This year during our visit I pay more attention to the wild flowers increasingly in bloom from February on.  The tall, spikey Asphodels that I see everywhere.   The anemone,  a loner elegant in lilac blue.   The mandrake, purple blue amid shiny leaves,  reminiscent of spooky stories.   The stately giant orchid. Perhaps above all I am drawn to the pink or white almond blossom buzzing with all manner of pollinators.  For me, the sweetly scented flowers are the harbinger of spring.

But what about wine?

Next time, I will write about a Cyprus wine we enjoy that I haven’t mentioned before.

Now back in Vancouver, with a rain-filled charcoal grey sky overhead, its good to bring these memories of Cyprus back to life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cyprus: Wine and mythology

We’re back in Cyprus, land of mythology, of Aphrodite rising from the waves. The goddess of love, known as Aphrodite to the Greeks and Venus to the Romans,  was believed to have risen from the sea foam near Paphos at Pétra tou Romioú.

Aphrodite's sea foam?

Could this be Aphrodite’s sea foam?

I remember seeing Sandro Botticelli’s renowned painting of the Birth of Venus (mid 1480’s) at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and am delighted to think I have seen both the painted interpretation and the physical site of the legend.

In this ancient land of Cyprus, where there are records of settlement at the site of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Kouklia, site of Old Paphos, dating from the 15th century BC, and where it seems that often the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea merge into one, the imagination can take flight and anything seems possible.

Cyprus is a treasure trove of archeological sites with their ancient history. We enjoy visiting these places, and stand in awe of the work and artistry of the people who accomplished so much in those ancient times. In January and March 2013, I wrote about the history of wine making in Cyprus and the mosaics in New Paphos at the Archaeological Park by the sea and those posts are in elizabethsvines archives.

Well preserved and in situ, the Paphos mosaics provide insight into life on the island mainly in the Roman period although there are also examples of pebble mosaics from the much earlier Hellenistic period. Not only do the mosaics illustrate flora and fauna, they also illustrate work related to wine making.

I am so interested in mosaics as an art form that I am learning the basics of mosaic making with Sharen Taylor, a highly skilled mosaic artist and conservationist resident in Cyprus.  First coming to the island to undertake professional conservation work, she subsequently conducted a two year historical research project of the Paphos mosaics. Now she dedicates herself to the “cultural heritage of mosaic making” working on commissions and teaching students at her studio in Paphos.

I have been spending hours practising the seven most used cutting techniques for tesserae ( a small block of stone, glass or wood used in mosaic making) and making a sample board, in much the same way my grandmother would have made a sample project of various needlework stitches. My grandmother was an accomplished needlewoman, as I think the expression goes. I won’t make the same claim for my tesserae/glass cutting skills but it’s fun to learn and try: more importantly it’s humbling to appreciate the immense amount of skill required to make the mosaics of people, animals, and life scenes evident at the archeological sites.

All this thinking about mythology, archeology and mosaic making hasn’t dulled my interest in local wines and the local grape varieties of Xinisteri, white grapes and Maratheftiko, black grapes. We will be visiting some local wineries to see how wine making is progressing on the island. In keeping with the art of the possible, the wine industry in Cyprus is enjoying a renaissance and I will share Cyprus wine experiences next time I write.

References

Mosaic artist and conservationist:   Sharen Taylor.  www.sharentaylor.com

Paphos Archeological Park    www.visitpafos.org.cy

Kouklia Archeological Site       http://www.visitpafos.org.cy

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.  www.uffizi.org ( I found it worth checking several sites including Wikipedia to learn more of the story of the painting)

Cyprus wine making – the ancient world meets the 21st century – part one

Late 4th/early 3rd century B.C. This pebble mosaic floor belongs to an earlier Hellenistic building and depicts Scylla, the mythical sea-monster who is part -woman, part-fish and part-dog. She is illustrated holding a ship mast and a trident and is surrounded by illustrations of sea life.

Late 4th/early 3rd century B.C. This pebble mosaic floor belongs to an earlier Hellenistic building and depicts Scylla, the mythical sea-monster who is part -woman, part-fish and part-dog. She is illustrated holding a ship mast and a trident and is surrounded by illustrations of sea life.

Floor mosaic depicting the birth of Achilles. Roman period 58 B.C. - 400 A.D.

Floor mosaic depicting the birth of Achilles. Roman period 58 B.C. – 400 A.D.

Paphos Archeological Site - Roman town 58 B.C to approx. 400 A.D. A World Heritage SitePaphos Archeological Site – Roman town 58 B.C to approx. 400/500 A.D. A  UNESCO World Heritage Site

Late 2nd/early 3rd century A.D. This panel represents the story of Icarios. Dionysos and Acme are depicted to the left of the panel. In the centre, Icarios is seen holding the reins of an ox-driven double wheeled cart, filled with sacks of wine. Further to the right, there are two shepherds in a state of inebriation. , A sign identifies them as, " The First Wine Drinkers."

Late 2nd/early 3rd century A.D. This panel represents the story of Icarios. Dionysos and Acme are depicted to the left of the panel. In the centre, Icarios is seen holding the reins of an ox-driven double wheeled cart, filled with sacks of wine. Further to the right, there are two shepherds in a state of inebriation. A sign identifies them as:”The First Wine Drinkers.”

A good starting point for considering Cyprus wine-making is in its classical history as illustrated in the archeological site in the old port area of Paphos, a town situated on the south west coast of Cyprus.  Paphos is included in the official UNESCO list of cultural and natural treasures of the world heritage.    The Cyprus Department of Antiquities manages this site where the past merges with the present day particularly through the medium of the ancient Hellenistic and Roman mosaics.

Walking through the entrance-way and up the wide, stone steps to the archeological site, visitors arrive at the open, broad area of excavation of this promontory.    The remains of the town with walkways, broken pillars and stone outlines of rooms are expansive and open to the blue sky which merges on the horizon with the blue, rolling Mediterranean Sea.  This strategic site bordering the harbour provides an uninterrupted 180′ view of passing ships.   What better way for the Romans to guard their Island of Aphrodite where they remained from about 58 B.C. to approximately 400/500 A.D.

There are two areas of mosaics that always draw my attention and wonder.   First of all the uncovered circular mosaic floor which is open to the elements.  It seems like a contemporary, beautiful carpet that I would love to own.   The blues, mauves, pinks, browns are still fresh to the eye in spite of rain and sun over the centuries.

For wine lovers, the mosaic floors around the atrium of the so called House of Dionysos,  2nd – 4th century A.D.,  are possibly the most intriguing.   The remains of this villa are so named after the figural scenes inspired by the Dionysos mythological circle which decorate the reception hall.   Here are mosaic patterns depicting the wine harvest with carts overflowing with sacks of wine and there are inebriated shepherds in the picture too!    The contemporary appearance of the mosaics and their clarity of colour seem to contradict their antiquity and are a tribute to the skill and creativity of the artisans who made them.

Interested visitors often lean over the rails of the raised boardwalk silently and intently gazing at the mosaics.    Perhaps they feel as though they are in a time warp.  Maybe they imagine that they can hear the sounds of the Roman household going about its daily routine and listen to the untold stories of the people who lived here beside the dark blue sea 1,700 years ago or even in earlier times, as illustrated by the pebble mosaic created centuries before.

Fast forward to the 21st century and grapes and grape growing remain an integral part of the Cyprus economy and society.   The modern Cyprus wine industry produces a large variety of white, red and rose wines and undoubtedly draws its inspiration from these earlier times.   More to come in the next Post.

Reference:  Cyprus Island Archeology       http://www.cyprusisland.com