The Bridges Collection contains a variety of Sgraffiato bowls which are associated with the Byzantine period in Cyprus. They bear the distinctive green and yellow painted design along with shallow incised decoration depicting various images such as human figures, birds and cruciform images.
The establishment of Christianity in Cyprus can be attributed to its position along the trade route between Rome and its interests e.g. Egypt and Palestine. Paul himself would stop to proselytize at Salamis. Meanwhile Pagan religion in Cyprus centered around the temples of Aphrodite and Zeus. Pilgrimage between the three main temples of the dedicates stimulated the Cypriot economy, and reinforced the island’s Roman-ness. By the mid-300’s CE, these temples were competing with Christian churches. It is unclear what happened to the temples as Christianity rooted itself on the island; some (like the temple of Zeus Olympia at Salamis) were converted to other purposes. Others were likely abandoned. Nevertheless by the era of the Byzantine Empire, the Christian church was a fixture in Cyprus, which is why bowls such as these were often adorned with the iconography of the cross.
Note: These bowls are not only wheel thrown and kiln fired, but they are also glazed. One of the key differences between a glaze and a slip is that a glaze melts upon firing to create a smooth and generally glossy surface. Glazes like these would have been composed of minerals from far and wide, such as lead and manganese.
Gods & Monsters
In addition to crosses, Byzantine decorators etched a variety of figures into the surface of these bowls. Tell us what you think they represent!
Another key characteristic of religious life in the Byzantine period was pilgrimage. Many pilgrims returned from religious sites abroad with small flasks of holy water, soil, dead sea water or some other such natural souvenir.
Caraher, William, R. Scott Moore, Brandon R. Olson, and Amy Papalexandrou. “The South Basilica at Arsinoe (Polis-Tes-Chrysochou): Change and Innovation in an Early Christian Basilica on Cyprus.” Cahiers Du Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes 43, no. 1 (2013): 79–92. https://doi.org/10.3406/cchyp.2013.1055.
Rautman, Marcus. “From Polytheism to Christianity in the Temples of Cyprus.” Accessed December 15, 2019. https://www.academia.edu/6526532/From_Polytheism_to_Christianity_in_the_Temples_of_Cyprus.
Stewart, Charles. “The First Vaulted Churches in Cyprus.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 69, no. 2 (June 2010).