Cultural Interactions in Cyprus 1191-1571: Byzantine and Italian Art

Cultural Interactions in Cyprus 1191-1571: Byzantine and Italian Art

By Ioannis Eliades

East and West: Bridging the Differences, edited by Vedran Bileta and Anita Buhin (Clioworld, 2011)

Introduction: The historiography of Frankish and Venetian rule in Cyprus (1191-1571) is permeated with the ideological approaches of foreign historians. The British archaeological authorities of the Cypriot colony (1878-1960) and the Anglo-Saxon school promoted the British colonial policy of the political integration of the Cypriots through scientific conclusions presenting the island as a no-man’s land. Cyprus was viewed as a neutral country with a multicultural character at the crossroads of the Eastern Mediterranean, lacking cultural contact with its neighbour countries – especially Greece in ancient times and Byzantium in the medieval period. The French School, on the other hand, through the work of historians like Mas Latrie and art historians like Camille Enlart in the 19th century, presented the Frankish and Venetian rule as the glorious period of Cyprus. Their history was obviously not objective since they did not take into consideration the population of the island which was dominated by foreign rulers. Nowadays some historians and art historians, including Demetrios Triantaphyllopoulos, Nikos Gkioles, Charalampos Chotzakoglou, Benediktos Egglezakis and Athanassios Papageorgiou have undertaken the difficult task of revaluating the history of this period taking into consideration the local population.

Cyprus was one of the most important ports of the Byzantine Empire, and became even more significant for the control of the Eastern Mediterranean after the conquest of Asia Minor by the Seljuk Turks following the fall of Manzikert in 1071. Italians had established very close ties with Byzantium and the East (Levante) since the 11th century. The emerging onshore towns in Italy, such as Venice, Pisa, Amalfi and Genoa, had already established districts in the heart of Constantinople for the residence of their traders and their ships were freely circulating in the ports of the Empire. With a Golden Bull (a Byzantine imperial document bearing the Emperor’s golden seal [bulla]) accorded to the Venetians in 1082 by Alexius I Comnenus, they had the right to trade throughout the Empire. Their right to approach Cyprus, though, was granted only in 1126 with another Golden Bull issued by Ioannis II Comnenus and the accordance of trade rights was extended to cover Cyprus, with the Golden Bull of Manuel I Comnenus in 1148. Byzantine officials administered the island in the 12th century, and thanks to this, high quality Byzantine art of the Comnenian era was channelled to the island. Monasteries and churches like Trikomo (1105/6), St. Neophytos (1183) and Arakas (1192) were erected and painted by Constantinopolitan painters who were attracted though grants from high-ranking Byzantine officials.

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