The Earliest Cloisonne Enamels from Cyprus
by Dr. Panicos Michaelides
Volume 8, Number 2, April 1989
technique of enameling may have been invented independently in
widely separated regions the history of the earliest cloisonne
enamels started from Cyprus.
An island in the eastern Mediterranean,
with a history of more than 8000 years, Cyprus was one of the
earliest producers of copper in the world, had a flourishing
metal industry and during the 'Golden Age' of Cyprus, the island
enjoyed a high level of prosperity. This brought a great
number of settlers and craftsmen from neighboring
countries. In order to escape the troubles on the Greek
mainland, Mycenaean refugees arrived in Cyprus establishing
important workshops and introducing new ideas and techniques
that played an important role in artistic creation. During
this period a new decorative technique, that of cloisonne
enameling, unknown elsewhere at the time, appeared in Cyprus.
In a Mycenaean tomb that was discovered at Kouklia, Cyprus, in
1952 and dated the thirteenth century B.C., there were six gold
rings decorated with cloisonne enamel that appear to have been
fused in place. A little later (11th century B.C.) a
magnificent Royal Gold Sceptre with cloisonne enamel was
discovered in a tomb at Kourion.
During the 9e Biennale de Limoges, in
July 1988, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Woodrow Carpenter,
President of The Enamelist Society of the United States of
America. He suggested that some information pertaining to
these early enamelers from Cyprus would be of interest to all
enamelers. In an attempt to throw some light on a dark epoch
of enamel history, I have collected some material that may help
identify Cyprus as a place of origin of cloisonne enameling.
Gold Rings from Kouklia
Kouklia is a small village in southwest Cyprus that occupies the
site of Palaeopaphos, an ancient city of great wealth and
importance during the late Bronze Age and known throughout
the ancient world for its sanctuary of Aphrodite.
In 1952 a British archaeological
expedition to Cyprus, jointly sponsored by the University of St.
Andrews and the Liverpool City Museum, excavated a locality
named Evreti on the east side of the village. The
archaeologist in charge of the excavation of the tombs was G.R.H.
Wright. Recently I had the pleasure and good luck of
meeting Dr. Wright at the Nicosia Museum and I am most grateful
to him for all information given to me.
Wright excavated eight productive
tombs, T8 being the most
important. It was almost square with a narrow cist dug in
the center of the floor, extending from the entrance to the back
wall. The tomb was constructed no later than the middle of
the fourteenth century B.C. and was exceptionally rich in
precious metals. The finds consisted of two silver bowls
and gold jewels which included two heavy ribbed bracelets, four
plain open-ended toe-rings, ten leech-shaped earrings and four
earrings with pendants in the form of ox-heads.
The most remarkable
objects discovered were six gold rings with cloisonne enamel
dated 1230-1050 B.C. With the kind permission of the
Director of Antiquities we have studied the rings closely and
have taken photographs. The rings are almost
identical. Two were not displayed and one had no contents
within its bezel. Three are in good condition. The
hoop is wide and broadens near the bezel. It is chased
with a flame design and twisted wire square wire is soldered on
the edge. The round bezel is made separately from a wide
strip of gold soldered to the base and bordered by granulation
consisting of two rows of grains. Within the bezel there
are cloisons of rectangular gold wire in the shape of scrolls
and rings filled with enamel. The material within the
bezel is enamel because:
1. There are no traces of cement.
2. The relationship between the
enclosed material and the cloisons is intimate.
3. A number of trapped air
bubbles is present.
4. The enclosed material is too
homogeneous to be anything else but glass fused to metal.
Royal Gold Sceptre from Kourion
cloisonne enamel from Cyprus, dated the eleventh century B.C., is
the famous Royal Gold Sceptre from a tomb at Kourion. It
consists of a plain tube with a sphere on top supporting two
vultures. The sphere and the birds are decorated with
cloisonne enamel in white, blue and mauve. The scale pattern
of the sphere is a Mycenaean design which was also common in vase
painting and ivory carving. Underneath, the sphere is
surrounded by two rows of grains. Height 16.5 cm.
Six gold finger rings from Kouklia and a
Royal Gold Sceptre from Kourion are the earliest cloisonne enamels in existence
and indicate that the technique of cloisonne enameling was first
practiced in Cyprus during the thirteenth century B.C.
I would like to express my gratitude to Mr.
V. Karageorghis, Director of Antiquities, Cyprus, and to Mrs. I.
Nicolaou and Mr. M. Loulloupis of the Nicosia Museum, for permission
to take photographs and the facilities to study the gold objects
I am particularly grateful to Dr. G.R.H.
Wright, the archaeologist in charge of of the excavation of the tombs
at Kouklia, for generously giving me his time and assistance and,
above all, most valuable information on his magnificent discovery of
the earliest cloisonne enamels.
Treasures, pl. XLI, 2. Mycenaean
Art, pl. XXXII, 1 Hector W. Catling, op. cit, BCHXCII (1968).
Jewellery in the Cyprus Museum, by Angeliki
Pierides, Republic of Cyprus, 1971.
Greek Gems and Finger Rings, John Boardman,
Thames and Hudson, 1970.
Metalwork and Enamelling, Herbert Maryon, 5th
Seven Thousand Years of Jewellery, Edited by
Hugh Tait, British Museum Publications, 1986.
Enamels, Susan Benjamin, Cooper-Hewitt
About the Author
Dr. Panicos Michaelides was born in Limassol,
Cyprus, in 1924. He studied medicine in Glasgow and was elected
Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Until 1984
he was senior specialist and head of the Orthopaedic Department of the
He studied enameling at the Sir John Cass
School of Art in London and worked under George Lloyd, Philip Barnes,
Jane Short and Georgina Follett, all skilled enamelists in London, as
well as Emailleur Buforn in Limoges. He is a member of the
Pancyprian Association of Goldsmiths, member of the Enamelist Society
of the America and associate member of the British Society of
Enamelers. He works mainly in gold, silver and enamel. He
has exhibited metalcraft and jewelry in Cyprus, Athens and Washington
D.C. Work in silver and gold can be found at Asprey's London,
the 'Zygos' Gallery, Washington D.C., the Precious Metal Gallery, Limassol,
and in private collections, apart from Cyprus, in many countries
abroad. He may be contacted at the address below:
P.E.M., Precious Metal Gallery, Ltd.
16 Byron St.
tel. (051) 63202