Cyprus has a relationship with Byzantine art that reaches far back into the past. It is a relationship that survives to this day thanks to those artists, who continue to create Byzantine style art of the highest quality.
Meet our guest for today — Constantinos Christou, who comes from a family of iconographers.
I create traditional Byzantine style icons. I also specialize in Byzantine and contemporary mosaics. My father has been creating icons for the Stavrovouni Monastery as well as a number of other churches and private residences in Cyprus for the last 40 years. When I was a child (one of five) I would love to observe the entire process: my father working together with his teacher, Father Kallinikos from Stavrovouni, and then inside his own studio at our house. This is how I came to love religious art. And then I came across the art of mosaics at the studio of my teacher Georgos Kepolasou. He not only taught me the art of mosaic-making, but also the patience that comes with it. I learned quickly and my first work was a mosaic with an image of a pheasant.
I created my first mosaic icon for the Chapel of St. George (USA) when I was only 15 years old. This means that I have been making icons since 1995 and have extensive experience in this field.
I mainly draw inspiration and ideas from antique and early Christian art. The thing that I enjoy the most in my work is the transformation that takes place, when a simple piece of wood or a plate with small stones turn into beautiful mosaics and icons.
I run a business of decorating the interiors of churches in Cyprus. Just like my father, I use traditional techniques and natural egg-based pigments in my work. This is how I make all of my icons — big and small. I also employ the traditional approach to creating mosaic icons and decorative compositions with modern images, by using smalt and gold that are imported from Venice, Italy. I use marble that is imported from Greece and stones that come from the coast and mountains of Cyprus, which I then grind to a smaller size and process.
I receive commissions from the Orthodox Church (such as the mosaic depicting the face of Christ that I created for the Archbishop’s Palace) and private parties. The Kykkos Monastery houses approximately 30 of my works. The Byzantine Museum of Art in Nicosia offers a few of my works for sale (you can see some samples here: www.christoumosaicart.com).
I have worked across the entire island: from Famagusta to Paphos and beyond. I am in touch with all of the Orthodox Dioceses abroad, as well as many foreign art collectors. I recently had an exhibition in Paphos, where a few of my works were purchased by Russian visitors.
And I recently learned that another one of my work turned up in a private collection in Italy. Affluent Cypriots have been building Orthodox churches in Britain and I was commissioned to create a mosaic floor for a church in London that featured a double-headed eagle (measuring 2.4 х 2.4 sq. m.). I have also donated the mosaic icons of St. Barnabas and St. Paul to an Orthodox Church in the US.
This is how Christou’s studio continues to produce works of traditional Byzantine art, frescoes and mosaics that go on to decorate churches and houses both in Cyprus and abroad.
I also have a hobby: I have a garden that I work in for a few hours a week. This is my way of taking a break. I also like to spend a couple of hours just sitting there with a glass of wine, or going to the beach with my friends or family.
I would love to travel more and explore countries that have a long history of antique architecture and decorative wood-carving.
I love my life in Cyprus. It is a small community of very hospitable people. The country has everything you need for a quiet family life. And of course it has a thousand-year history of various types of traditional art that are hard to come by in other countries.
For anyone, who visits Cyprus, I recommend going to the beach and the mountains, as well as trying out traditional Cypriot cooking. Visit some of the old monasteries and archeological sites, which feature ancient monuments. Stop by any of the numerous artisan studios, where artists carry on the tradition of local crafts, breathing new life into these ancient forms of art.
You should also try and watch our traditional folk dancing, which demonstrates the presence of Hellenic traditions in everyday life on the island.