Christoforos Savva | Painting a United Cypriot Identity

Christoforos Savva | Painting a United Cypriot Identity

Explore the legacy of Christoforos Savva, a leading figure in 20th-century Cypriot art, whose work transcends nationalist divisions, embodying a united Cypriot identity through vibrant still life compositions.

21 March 2024

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Christoforos Savva is one of the most prominent Cypriot artists of the 20th century, he is remarkable for his advocacy of a Cypriot identity without nationalist divisions. With almost no formal education, Savva instead found political enlightenment in the Leftist café culture of Cyprus. Often reflective of this cultural setting, his still life pieces are characterized by the bold combinations of colour and a distinctly Mediterranean flavour, the paintings by Savva in our Modern and Contemporary Art auction are typical of his engagement with this subject. In them we see not only the influence of Fauvism on the artist, but also his dedication to the presentation of everyday scenes which are ‘recognisably Cypriot’ though ‘sufficiently abstract not to be identified with any specific community on the island’ (Mais 2021). In this way, Savva’s art is a quiet advocacy for a united Cypriot identity.  

 

Christoforos Savva (Cypriot, 1924-1968) Still life of a jug of flowers, a bottle of wine and fruit on a table signed 'Ch. Savva' l.l., oil on canvas laid down on board 71 x 71cm (£6,000-8,000)

Christoforos Savva (Cypriot, 1924-1968) Still life of a jug of flowers, a bottle of wine and fruit on a table signed 'Ch. Savva' l.l., oil on canvas laid down on board 71 x 71cm (£6,000-8,000)

 

In the first painting we see a bright orange table with a vase full of red and yellow-orange daisies, a bottle of amber wine, a bowl of red grapes, and a few just-blushing apples. Behind them a somewhat abstract background; perhaps a countertop on the left, white and blue below a red top. To the right, perhaps large cobbles of an old street. Our understanding could stop here, but instead let us investigate more deeply. This amber wine is Commandaria, regarded as the oldest wine in the world still in production and made in Cyprus for almost three thousand years—it is first mentioned by Hesiod in 800 BC. When King Richard the Lionheart was married in Cyprus in 1191, this was the wine drunk at his wedding. The red grapes in the bowl are Mavro, indigenous to Cyprus and grown in the Troodos mountains on the island. They are mixed with another indigenous grape variety from the Troodos, Xynisteri, to produce Commandaria.  

Also hailing from the Troodos mountains and native to Cyprus are Kathista apples, characterised by their greenish-yellow hue and light reddish touches. It is these which are grouped on the table. The vase which holds the flowers—daisies which grow wild on Cyprus—resembles Iron Age examples of pottery from the island with its white slip and simple horizontal painted line. Savva celebrates the ancient bounty of his island home, the objects and traditions whose presence there far predate the divided Cyprus in which he grew up, which will surely outlast those divisions. 

 

Christoforos Savva (Cypriot, 1924-1968) Still life of a pot plant, fruit and a vase on a table signed 'C H Savva' l.r., oil on canvas 41 x 51cm (£3,000-5,000)

Christoforos Savva (Cypriot, 1924-1968) Still life of a pot plant, fruit and a vase on a table signed 'C H Savva' l.r., oil on canvas 41 x 51cm (£3,000-5,000)

 

These markers of a Cypriot identity, celebrated without regard to nationalist commitments to Greece or Turkey, are placed in the foreground of the painting. The uniquely Cypriot context we have recognised for the items on the table suggests an interpretation for the countertop in the background. White and blue below is separated from the red above by a winding black line; so too was Savva’s Cyprus separated with the Greek half to the south and the Turkish to the north. Greek and Turkish flags, alluded to by Savva’s colouring, are deprioritised behind markers of a united Cypriot identity. This painting is absolutely exemplary of Savva’s lifelong political commitments, and the unity for which he worked.   

The second painting, like the first, is remarkable for its celebration of bold colours; Savva’s deeply held admiration for Matisse and Picasso is made totally apparent. In this painting, once again, fruit and pottery of a Cypriot flavour are represented. Savva welcomes us into a pink-tinged, heat-hazed vision of an indoor domestic scene on the island.   

 


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