An imposing wall topped by three bulls’ heads towers over the comparatively diminutive human figure, perhaps an attendant or supplicant at the shrine.
A mother, seated, cradles her dead child in her left arm and raises her right hand in prayer. A baby, on all fours but very much on the move, looks up alertly as it crawls.
These three objects, thousands of years old and made from clay and bronze, help tell the story of birth, death, and life on three of the Mediterranean’s islands—Crete, Cyprus, and Sicily—as part of an exhibition on now through June 4, 2023, at Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam Museum.
The exhibition, Islanders: The Making of the Mediterranean, is part of a broader yearslong research project, Being an Islander: Art and Identity of the Large Mediterranean Islands, that also encompasses public events and a documentary shot on the Greek island of Sifnos that takes a contemporary look at the sometimes paradoxical nature of island life.
At the same time that the sea separates and isolates islands, it also connects and offers routes of trade and travel between them. The exhibition explores shared—and distinctive—island identity, migration, technology, food, and ritual from the Neolithic to the Roman periods through 180 objects, most of which have never been displayed outside of their home islands.
Spanning the gap of centuries to bring visitors into contemplation of modern island identity—including in many cases their own as British Islanders—three poems conclude the exhibition, among them one of the best known and best loved Greek poems about an island, Cavafy’s “Ithaka.”