Sneak Peek

21 Jun 2024

Sneak Peek: Vue des Ruines du Monastère de Cazzfone

PNT-00079 >Vue des Ruines du Monastère de Cazzfone, Chypre, Louis François Cassas (1756-1827), 1785

Louis Francois Cassas was sent to the Near East by his patron Ambassador to the Porte Choiseul-Gouffier to produce sketches for his forthcoming book Le Voyage Pittoresque de la Syrie, de la Phoenicie, Palestine et la Basse Egypte. Choiseul-Gouffier’s book includes six engravings of views of Cyprus because Cassas, on his way from Alexandretta to Egypt, due to a storm, came to Cyprus.

Cassas made thirteen illustrations of Cyprus, two of which are still missing, and references in the French archives indicate that these were of Amathus.

This watercolour is one of Cassas's illustrations. It is a view of Bellapais Abbey, also known as Episcopia or the White Abbey, Abbee de la Paix, and Telabaise. Augustinian monks lived there until 1206 when Thierry, Archbishop of Cyprus, authorised them to adopt Premonstratensian rule. The abbey flourished until the end of Venetian rule, when its influence declined, and the French canons occupying the abbey allowed the buildings to fall into disrepair. Bellapais Abbey was abandoned in 1571, and only a small Christian church within the abbey remained in use.

The area surrounding the monastery is one of the most idyllic places in Northern Cyprus, accurately portrayed. The lush vegetation envelopes and compliments the focal point of the painting and contributes to its grandeur. On the right side, two women and a child are walking up the path, passing by an elder resting against a rock. The central figure, a taller woman, looks at the beggar over her shoulder and points at him with an outstretched hand. This representation of the group, its presence and its costumes are unusual and contrast with the faithfulness characterising the landscape. No woman in eighteenth-century Cyprus would have been walking in the countryside alone or would have dressed in this way. Women would only go out of their houses to go to the market or the church, always accompanied by men.

At the time, Cypriots wore clothes that were a mixture of Greek and Turkish island costumes. The beggar here is dressed in a Cypriot costume distinguishable by the blue pantaloon (vraka), the gilet and the red cap.

Cassas lived during a pivotal period in the history of France, characterised by the impending onset of its most significant social transformation, the ascendancy of humanitarian ideals, and the palpable scent of revolution looming.

With the artist influenced by the Philhellenic attitudes of his patron Choisel-Gouffier, one may suggest that there is an allegory presented in this scene.

The women, wearing the Greek χλαμύδα (hlamyda) could be part of the remote history of the island, the abbey to which they are going the glorious past, and the beggar the present.

Alternatively, the women may represent the “soul” of the Greek culture, a timeless ideal, which, along with the ancient surviving monastery, constitutes the glory of the land. They are there to inspire their countrymen to rise to the heights of the past.

Furthermore, could Cassas, through the Greek clothing, have identified the inhabitants and the island with the Western world to which it once belonged? The artist has chosen to ignore the present political realities on the island and not to include any hint of Ottoman rule or presence in the picture. The landscape is so Westernised that it could have even been French.

The 'Sneak Peek' series is supported by OPAP (Cyprus).

PNT-00079 Louis Francois Cassas Vue des Ruines du Monaste're de Cazzfone, Chypre, 1785 watercolour, 25 x 41 cm.jpg

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