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Old Nicosia (St Sophia and Panagia Hodegetria), 1919 (?)



Ioannis Kissonerghis (1889-1963)
Old Nicosia (St Sophia and Panagia Hodegetria), 1919 (?)
watercolour on paper
AGLC 500 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

In the foreground the painting depicts part of the Gothic cathedral of St Sophia and in the middle the church of Panagia Hodegetria (the Guiding Virgin), which are located in the medieval centre of Nicosia. St Sophia was built in the 13th century, during the Frankish period, and is considered the most important example of Gothic architecture on the island. Following the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus, it was turned into a mosque in 1571. The church of Panagia Hodegetria is on the south side of St Sophia. It is a Byzantine basilica, believed to have been repaired in the 14th century based on Gothic models and having functioned as the cathedral of the Greeks in Nicosia. During the Ottoman occupation, the church was turned into a marketplace, which is why, to this day, it is known as ‘Betestan’, which is Turkish for indoor market.

Kissonerghis was especially fond of Nicosia’s Turkish districts and gave us plenty of drawings, watercolours and oils featuring buildings, streets and scenes from daily life, especially from the area around St Sophia. It is not known when Old Nicosia was made. A pencil drawing that belongs to the collection of the painter’s family and portrays these two buildings, as seen from an adjacent angle, is dated 11 May 1919. Therefore, it is very possible that the respective watercolour was created during the same period.

The painting constitutes a balanced composition, in terms both of shapes and colours. The artist developed his subject matter with simplicity and lucidity, submitting to the harmony of the colours and the geometry of the architecture. The horizontal, tranquil construction of the components of the foreground is enlivened by the emphatic intervention of the vertical minaret. The warm colour of the limestone, which sets the tone in the old city of Nicosia, ‘converses’ harmoniously with the cool blue of the sky.

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About the artist

Ioannis Kissonerghis was born in Nicosia in 1889. He studied medicine for three years at the University of Athens, but interrupted his studies to take part in the Balkan Wars. After they ended in 1913 he enrolled in the Athens School of Fine Arts, where he remained for 1 ½ years.  However due to serious Illness, he had to return to Cyprus, where he taught at the Pancyprian Gymansium and The English School.  His art was very much influenced by his studies at the Athens School of Fine Art, where he was taught by professors that had been educated in Munich and had brought with them the artistic climate that prevailed there at the time.  His relationship with them is evident in Kissonerghis’ realistic approach, accomplished draftsmanship and detailed and skillful composition. Kissonerghis was particularly involved in watercolour. The greater freedom of line and the quicker speed that watercolour painting demands affected his style, helping to distance him from the various constraints of the academic tradition.

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