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Rare beauty

Two replicas of historic sculptures have been unveiled in Larnaca. Take the opportunity to see them for yourself says ALIX NORMAN

There must be few places in the world so steeped in history as Cyprus. From the ancient civilisations of Idalion to the modern day events of the 20th and 21st centuries, we’re living in a country whose Past certainly merits a capital P. And yet in a place where erecting a set of traffic lights constitutes an archaeological risk it’s possible we’re more immune to the wonders of history than most. However, just because we’re used to wonders at every turn doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate something of true historic – and artistic – significance. And thus the two Caproni casts now housed in the Cyprus College of Art, significant both as objects from the past and sculptures of rare beauty, are worth far more than a passing glance.

Crafted by the Italian sculptor Pietro Caproni in the late nineteenth century, these life-size replicas of historic sculptures have been in use for over a hundred years as teaching aids for art students. The two casts are both extremely rare, and constitute exact reproductions of the Poseidon of Artimesium and the more famous Venus de Milo – she of the timeless and armless beauty.

Now, while you may not have heard directly of the Caproni casts, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the Venus defeature-statues Milo, the epitome of female beauty produced by the sculptor Alexandros of Antioch in 130BC. Lost for thousands of years before its rediscovery in 1820 in a hidden sea cave on the island of Milos, the statue is often considered the most beautiful female image ever made. And the Caproni Venus now gracing the halls of the Cyprus College of Art is not merely an exact copy of the original, it’s also of great artistic merit in its own right.

“The quality of a reproduction is of the greatest importance. In an original work of merit there is a subtleness of treatment – a certain feeling which, if captured in reproduction, places the finished piece within the realm of art itself,” said Pietro Caproni who was considered, by many, one of the greatest craftsmen of his time. Born in Barga, Italy, the sculptor emigrated to Boston in the late 1870s, there to form the business which supplied plaster reproductions of classical and contemporary statues.

Practised in the art of creating quality reproductions, Caproni travelled through Europe making moulds directly from masterpieces in museums such as the Louvre, the Vatican, the Uffizi Gallery and the British Museum – one of the last to be allowed the freedom of casting directly from museum pieces.Together with his brother, Emilio, Pietro supplied art schools, major universities and museums around the world, the casts playing – in an era before commercial photography – an integral role as educational tools in the teaching of the history of art and antiquities.

A role which the casts still play today: while visitors will undoubtedly flock to view these creations, students at the college will be using the statues for the purpose for which they were originally intended. “The students are incredibly enthusiastic about working from the Caproni casts,” says Angela Paleomylites, Administrator at the Cyprus College of Art. “One of the elements included in our courses is drawing from antiquity, and these casts have such wonderful line and form. They’re so anatomically accurate, and they bring life into the students’ sketching and drawing.”

Already ensconced within the halls of the college prior to the official unveiling tomorrow evening, the works bring a distinct majesty to the premises: “At about seven foot, including the plinth, the casts really augment the high ceilings in our gallery space. They are both so imposing and impressive that they’ve cast an aristocratic air over the whole building,” says Angela, adding that the fact that no casts can ever again be made from the originals adds a great deal to their value.

Acquired from the Jerusalem Studio School of Art in Israel, the two casts have been purchased with the generous help of the Herbert Read Sculpture Trust and, in light of their historical importance and exquisite beauty, will be available for viewing by the general public. The exhibition will be officially opened tomorrow at 7pm by the Mayor of Larnaca, Andreas Louroutziatis, and Professor Benedict Read. With all comers very welcome, the exhibit is well worth a visit; we may, indeed, live on an island rich in works of historical beauty, but there’s very little that can compare to the singular beauty of not one, but two, Caproni casts. Prepare to be breathless.

Display of Venus De Milo and Poseidon of Artimesium casts
By Pietro Caproni opens on February 10 at 7pmat the Cornaro Institute (23 Mehmet Ali Street) in Larnaca. The exhibition continues until April 30 and is open from Monday to Friday between 10am and 5pm. Entrance is free, and all are welcome. For further information contact Angela on 24 254042 or visit www.artcyprus.org

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