Cypro-Archaic Bird Iconography: Types, Uses, and Meanings

Dissinger, Alicia, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Smith, Tyler, Department of Art, University of Virginia

Images of birds became common in the art of Cyprus during the Archaic period, ca. 750-475 BC, and this study explores the types of birds created, the use of the images, and ultimately, the meanings imbedded in the representations. Despite their prevalence, most scholars have noted the birds in passing, and interpreted them as added decoration. A majority of scholarship about the decipherment of avian images in the ancient Mediterranean focuses on the Greek world, the Near East, and Egypt, while Cypriot bird portrayals lack in-depth analyses. Therefore, this project has three goals: first, to create a typological system for identification of bird images and objects, based on bird types; second, to establish a representative sample of known Cypro-Archaic bird images; third, to elucidate the cultural connotations associated with bird portrayals during the Cypro-Archaic period.

This investigation begins by providing an introduction to how avifaunae and their images were perceived during antiquity in the eastern Mediterranean. In two subsequent chapters, the sculpted and painted birds are discussed separately, and are analyzed based on their classified bird type, as derived from the typological system created. Birds of prey, songbirds, and waterfowl have been identified in the Cypriot artistic repertoire. The context of the bird portrayals are also examined in order to distinguish patterns of deposition which highlight the use of the artifacts. Bird images are also analyzed in relation to the many other types of animal representations made on Cyprus during the Archaic period. Such comparisons situate the bird depictions in the larger sphere of Cypriot art and culture. In the conclusion, each bird type (bird of prey, songbird, and waterfowl) is summarized to expose the cultural connotations associated with each, and additionally, two major themes, religion and death, drawn from the analysis are discussed.

It is demonstrated that each of the three identified bird types (bird of prey, songbird, and waterfowl) were deposited and used in particular ways during the Cypro-Archaic period, indicating that each type was perceived to have its own cultural connotation. The rarely created birds of prey were primarily deposited within private cultic contexts, suggesting they may have been apotropaic devices or manifestations of power. Representations of songbirds are mainly associated with ritualistic paraphernalia and have been found in sanctuaries, indicating their use in cultic rituals and thought. Waterfowl portrayals are most commonly discovered in mortuary assemblages, insinuating a relationship between the bird and conceptions of death. Thus, it is suggested that the three types of bird representations gained their cultural connotations by associations the ancient Cypriots attached to their live counterparts.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Cyprus, Iconography, Bird
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