Cyprus, Kiti, Church of the Panagia Angeloktistos
|6AD - 7AD
|Αρχιεπισκόπου Κυπριανού, Kiti, Cyprus
This mosaic is still there and well-worth a visit! Kiti is in Cyprus, very close to Larnaca airport. The church is very small and undistinguished, though it has clearly been remodelled (on more than one occasion). The mosaic is in the apse and is traditionally dated to the sixth-seventh centuries. This is on grounds of its appearance (some similarities with St Catherine’s Monastery on Mt Sinai), and because the other Cypriot mosaics (Lythrangomi and Livadia) are also dated to the same time, and because scholars used to think that after the seventh century, Cyprus went into decline. But actually we don’t know for certain. A.H.S.Megaw and Ernest Hawkins (who worked on Kanakaria) worked on Kiti and I have had it said to me that their researches were never published because they couldn't agree on the date.
At Kiti, Mary, labelled as ‘Hagia Maria’, ‘Holy Mary’, a sign of the sanctity of the human woman chosen to bear Christ, a vision in red, stands on a footstool, against a gold background, clasping Christ and attended by two angels holding staffs and globes, and with magnificent peacock wings in green and blue. The lack of any sort of detail in the background – there is not even a strip of green along the bottom – perhaps locates this in a purely heavenly space. The decorative border, showing the fountain of life, birds, animals and beribboned parrots, resembles both that at Lythrankomi and also motifs found in floor mosaics in Antioch. But the modelling of the faces, set in patterns and contours to give precision and an impression of relief, and with the use of chequerboarding for shading, is very different to the technique used to create the figures at Lythrankomi. In addition, the marble tesserae used in Kiti are considerably smaller. Some of the technical details are very sophisticated indeed – the hands of the angels holding translucent globes are cracking – look for the details of the fingers and thumb behind the globe. It’s a breath-taking mosaic, though it could do with cleaning and better illumination, and the current iconostasis in front of it is a total pain in the neck.
Cyprus and wall mosaics: Conventionally, all Cypriot mosaics have been dated to before the mid-seventh century. This was because it was believed that Arab raids on Cyprus began in the 640s and devastated the island, thereby affecting the peaceful economic and social conditions under which it is assumed people would build churches and fill them with mosaic. But recent scholarship (2011 onwards) also suggests very strongly that the Arab raids on Cyprus were far less damaging than had been believed, and that life and trade on the island continued relatively peacefully and prosperously into the eighth century. Removing the 640s cut-off point re-opens questions about the validity of the dating of these mosaics, opening the possibility of a later date. Only renewed close examination of the three mosaics will help with this, but once again the problems inherent in an understanding based primarily on style is apparent.
The relationship of the three mosaics to each other and to other mosaics has also been keenly debated, in particular the focus has been on the emphasis on the Mother of God that this chance of survival suggests. Most immediately, it is clear that both apse mosaics and the image of Mary offered scope for considerable variations on a theme.