A rare exhibit showing 3200 years of Cypriot Hellenish opens at the Onassis Cultural Center
NEW YORK.- By Vicky Yiannias
The fact that the art and artifacts are leaving the island of Cyprus for the first time attests to the importance of the rare exhibit, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite: 3200 Years of Cypriot Hellenism.” The exhibit, which opens at the Onassis Cultural Center on October 22, and is open for viewing until January 3, 2004, has as its subject the process of the Hellenization of Cyprus over the millenia. The exhibit is presented under the auspices of Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos, President of the Republic of Cyprus, who is going to be represented by his Vice Minister to the President, Christodoulos Passiardis.
Aphrodite rose fully-grown, myth tells us, out of the sea foam at Cyprus, and for that reason was called Cypris in ancient times. The exhibit’s signature piece, a torso of the goddess Aphrodite, the “Aphrodite Anadyomene” (Aphrodite, emerging from the sea), one of the exhibit’s 85 pieces dates from the 1st century BC. The narrow shoulders and long, broad hips of the fragmented torso — her arms and head are missing — reflect the sculptural tradition created by Praxiteles, the most famous of the Attic sculptors.
Pulled from the seabed at Paphos, Cyprus in 1953, where it was polished by seawater for centuries, the marble torso is burnished to a mysterious opalescence.
Describing the sculpture as magnificent and enchanting, Ambassador Tsilas, Director of the Onassis Foundation USA, notes that the “magnificent and enchanting sculpture,” with its almost incandescent glow “looks as if it came from another world.” Tsilas adds that the fact that the sculpture was actually found in the sea is consummate with the legend of Aphrodite rising out of the blue sea and its white foam.
Another of the outstanding pieces in the exhibit is the molded bronze “Standing Female Figure (Goddess Ishtar /Aphrodite), showing one stage of the development from the image of the bloodthirsty Mesopotamian sex goddess, Ishtar, or Astarte, to the love goddess, Aphrodite. This transformation in the images of the goddess is an indication that the island was influenced and embraced by the great civilizations of the East, as it evolved into the easternmost bastion of Hellenism. Touches of red, yellow and blue paint bring a sense of immediacy to the empathetic, doe-eyed sculpture.
Among other outstanding pieces, “Mycenean Gold Beads” is a dazzling group of ancient-looking but amazingly contemporary, flat gold chevron-shaped linked beads with a heart shape design that encloses another design that appears to be two ram’s horns joined at the base.
A mysterious, “Hittite Figurine” of dark silver, dating from 1400 -1200 BC, is a stocky man, with his features set in an inscrutable, almost grim, expression, standing on the back of an equally stocky horse and holding a thick, coiling snake in his arms.
Made of ceramic Phoenician ware and conveying a happy mood, the gorgeous “Chariot Model” is two figures, a smiling boy wearing a peaked hat, and a smiling man wearing a peaked, Egyptian-looking large headdress, in a chariot pulled by three small horses and their hands in the position of holding reins. The entire piece is vibrant, with remnants of ochre, blue, and red dye, even on the spokes of the wheels.
The mold-made terracotta titled “Seated Young Man” dating from the 4th century BC, with an unknown archaeological context, has an impossibly odd, incongruous resemblance to a depiction of Charlemagne on the throne.
Cypriot art evolved as native artistic genius interacted with the influences of the cultures of new ethnic groups, among others, the Phoenicians, Syrians, Hittites, Sumerians, and Myceneans. “From the archaeological and cultural point of view,” says Tsilas, the exhibit gives evidence that over the millennia, Cyprus assimilated foreign influences and rendered them Hellenic.” The full Hellenization of the island was accomplished with Alexander’s expedition to the East.
“We felt that it would be interesting to make evidence of this assimilation available to the public of New York, and to the United States of America, says Tsilas, “Describing a culture in an exhibit of art and artifacts in this era of finding one’s roots,” says Tsilas “always help people to appreciate their land more. This is a very interesting exhibition worthy to be seen not only by Cypriots, not only by Greek-Americans, but by the American public, as well.”
Stating that the Foundation is very proud and very happy to have organized this exhibit, Ambassador Tsilas, on behalf of the President of the Foundation also extended gratitude to the President of the Republic of Cyprus and to Dr. Sophocles Hadjisavvas, the Director of Antiquities of Cyprus, who organized the exhibition and will introduce the exhibit at the opening. “They were very forthcoming in lending the Foundation these treasures. Because these artifacts come from the museums of Cyprus, without their help this exhibit would not be taking place.”