Over the recent holidays we were up North again, visiting Ioannina among other places in Epirus and Western Greece. In the Iç Kale – the inner fortress of the town – we were lucky to happen on a temporary where I spotted a lovely painted door panel.
The door panel – half of two panels that make up a double door – came from an old arkondiko (mansion) – probably dating to the late 18th or early 19th century.
I also spotted a later 19th-century door in the outer Kale, but don’t know if grafitti can be classed as “painted”. However – if you really stretch the point – it is a sort of unintentional decoration. The original white paint must have seemed like a pristine sheet of paper that just screamed out for doodles and scribbles.
Last September we came upon two modern painted doors in the Ioannina…
Yesterday we celebrated the Epiphany in Greece (new followers can read about it here), so it seemed like a good time to mention a wonderful discovery made at a church in the village of Tsivaras, 17 kilometers east of the town of Chania, in Crete.
The finding concerns a religious icon, which is believed to be an early work of master painter El Greco.
El Greco, whose real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos, was born on October 1, 1541 in Heraklion, Crete. However, the artist spent the bulk of his life in Italy and in Spain, where he created his best-known works.
The finding was announced by Byzantine history expert MichalisAndrianakis at a recent archaeology conference. It concerns a double icon, of the Virgin and Saint Catherine, and Byzantine experts have been studying it for many years.
According to Andrianakis, “The icon was located at the apron of the temple of the church which was built in the 1880s. It was cut in half so it would fit on the temple and the bottom part where the signature of the artist would have been was discarded.”
He thinks that several elements in the icon are specific of the El Greco style, one of which are the pigments that were used.
Today marks the start not only of a new year, but of a new decade.
The last decade has been rocky, the new starts with a lot of huge challenges.
Fires are raging in Australia as we speak, and the decade has seen a lot of climatic disasters. Many have lost their homes and even their lives.
We are in the midst of the greatest movement of populations the world has ever witnessed. Wether we like it or not, we are, and will be, for many reasons, inundated with refugees and other migrants, and we must find humane ways of dealing with this issue.
There has been great economic upheaval, a lot of countries being hit with unprecedented crises.
One of the main reasons problems remain insoluble has been a lack of effective leadership worldwide. Petty squabbles, endless scandals, vote-grabbing concerns mean that the job does not get done. Too little, too late.
The biggest effect in our everyday lives has been the rapid advance in technology, enabling us to have access to all information (overwhelmingly so sometimes), to communicate easily and cheaply, to virtually be everywhere. This has its good and bad sides, like everything else, which I shall not bore you by enumerating.
Human nature, in my humble opinion, does not change. It is capable of the best, as of the worst. Violence, greed, atrocities, financial shenanigans, injustice. On the other hand, we have witnessed fantastic new inventions and discoveries, unimaginable progress in medicine and other sciences, great works of art and amazing cases of selflessness, humanity and downright heroism.
However big the challenges facing us, we must remember humankind has endured for a couple of hundred thousand years. It has faced up to challenges before. We must enter this new decade with optimism and a will to make changes for the better.
It being TBT today, I thought I’d repost a seasonal article I wrote in 2015, for newer readers—old hands just avert your eyes. I remember I had lots of fun making all the drawings for this post. Here goes:
Christmas can be a tiring and frustrating time. We expect too much, we want everything to be perfect. Some run themselves into the ground, feeling it’s their job to provide that perfection for family and friends. Some expect to be surrounded by luxury and glamour, to be enchanted and entertained. Some just get depressed.
The image of the beautiful family, dressed to kill, with brushed hair and dazzling smiles in front of a tree dotted with tasteful baubles, or sitting around a table laden with a delicious feast is hardly likely to materialize. The gingerbread house will refuse to stay up, and will have to be propped up with cans of tuna. The kids will squabble over their gifts and make faces at the camera, having refused to wear the velvet ruffled garments bought for the occasion. The turkey will be overcooked, and uncle John will get drunk and insult his mother-in-law. Nobody will get the gifts they’d hoped for, and the glamorous party will turn out to be totally devoid of hot babes/dudes. And then the bills will start coming in. (Just an imaginary scenario!)
Perhaps the solution is to aim for less materialistic pleasures. Trying to think what those could be, I came up with the following, somewhat fanciful, list: of tips for the days to come.
On the first day of Christmas – Do something for yourself. A little treat: have a massage, go for a ride or a walk in the park. Take an hour off work for coffee with a friend.
On the second day of Christmas – Spend some quality one-on-one time with someone special: spouse, lover, sibling, offspring, grandchild, friend. Or even your dog.
On the third day of Christmas – Resolve to think three positive thoughts per day, every day. Or, to note three good things that happened. Or, to find three things to be thankful for.
On the fourth day of Christmas – Get four old friends together for a pizza and cards evening. Laughs guaranteed.
On the fifth day of Christmas – For the last full working week before Christmas, be cheerful at work. Smile and people will smile in return. Five days – it should be possible.
On the sixth day of Christmas – Find six good books to read. Browse in a bookshop, or go through the pile on the bedside table. Books take you away from your problems – they’re a door into another world.
On the seventh day of Christmas – Resolve to spend ten minutes each Sunday making a menu for the week. The cooking and shopping will become so much easier.
On the eighth day of Christmas – Make a list of eight fun things to do in the coming months. Book a show, visit places you haven’t seen, explore the neighbourhood. Almost as good as a vacation (but one of them could be a weekend break).
On the ninth day of Christmas – Bake or buy cupcakes or cookies and distribute them. Food makes people happy.
On the tenth day of Christmas – Get ten people together and have a party. Don’t spend a fortune, or ages cooking – everyone can bring something.
On the eleventh day of Christmas – De-clutter. Find 11 things to donate, recycle or bin. You’ll feel so much lighter.
On the twelfth day of Christmas – Call twelve people and ask how they are. Listen to what they have to say. Not your buddies to whom you talk every day: the old friend you haven’t seen for a while, the elderly aunt who bores you, the acquaintance you heard has not been well. It will make everyone feel better.
I hope this list has amused you, if nothing else. Do I hear hollow laughs? Any other suggestions?
Taking advantage of a couple of days in London a few weeks ago, I tried to fit in as many art shows as possible. After the Gormley exhibition at the Royal Academy, I went to see the works of William Blake at Tate Britain.
When I was in school, I found Blake’s poetry a little grim, if not downright creepy: O rose, thou art sick… etc. But I was always intrigued by any accompanying illustrations, so seeing them in the flesh is always a real treat.
William Blake (self portrait above), born 1757 – died 1827, was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. He lived most of his life in London, at a time of great political and sociological change which greatly influenced his writing. He was largely unrecognised during his lifetime, but is posthumously considered one of the leading lights of English Romanticism.
The painting above is ink, graphite and watercolor, and has been named An Allegory of the Bible, which is not the artist’s title. The Bible, however, was always an inspiration for Blake, and in this composition he has started using more color than previously.
Blake was born into a modest family who, happily, encouraged his artistic leanings. He eventually went to work as an engraver, and at the age of 31 developed relief etching, a method he used to produce most of his books, paintings, pamphlets and poems. The process is also referred to as illuminated printing; however, for his commercial work, Blake mostly used the more common intaglio engraving. He is a master of composition, as can be seen in the painting above. He also used oils, as In the painting below.
Between 1793 and 1795 Blake produced a remarkable collection of illuminated works that have come to be known as the Minor Prophecies, in which he examines the fall of man. In Blake’s mythology man and God were once united, but man separated himself from God and became weaker and weaker as he became further divided.
One of the best known paintings from this series is the one above, which, though small, is very powerful. Its central figure is Urizen, who, measuring the world beneath him with his golden compass, represents the scientific quest for answers. For Blake this action was a threat to what he thought of as the cornerstones of human happiness: imagination, creativity and thought.
Blake must have had fantastic eyesight to be able to spend hours writing out his poems in minute script before illuminating them. Blake also illustrated other people’s work, such as Thomas Grey’s lovely ‘Elegy written in a country churchyard’.
And his engraving of Chauser’s The Canterbury Tales remains probably the best known image on this subject.
Although we are spoilt for choice in Athens as far as antiquities and Byzantine icons are concerned, up to now there were no permanent exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. This hole has just been filled with the advent of a new museum hosting a wonderful collection of modern and contemporary paintings and sculpture.
After 26 years of planning and six years of construction, the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation has opened its new space in a totally renovated neoclassical building in the Pangrati neighborhood of Athens. The museum showcases the stunning private collection of the late Basil Goulandris and his wife Elise, and boasts around 180 paintings, sculptures, and artifacts.
A shipping magnate whose shrewd eye and passion for art was equaled by his wife’s, Basil Goulandris collected unique pieces over the years, starting with a wonderful El Greco, The Veil of San Veronica.
The couple lived with the paintings on the walls of their houses and, in 1979, when the works of art had become too numerous to be privately enjoyed, they inaugurated the Museum of Contemporary Art on the island of Basil’s birth, Andros; this was, at the time, the country’s first institution devoted to the art of the present.
However, they always nurtured a dream to establish another art space in the center of Athens, which would offer broader audiences an opportunity to see contemporary art.
Now, 30 years after Basil’s death and 20 years after Elise’s, their vision has become reality. The original 1920s listed, three-floor building has been complemented by a modern extension hovering above the facade and now contains 11 stories (5 of which are underground to house the annex activities such as archives and storage) connected by a central stairwell made of white marble. The combination of the two styles on the outside is harmonious, and inside the different areas merge seamlessly into each other, giving an impression of spaciousness. In front of the building a little square, also renovated by the foundation, abuts the steps leading up to the church of Agios Spyridon, which was built in 1903 on designs by the noted German architect Ernst Ziller.
The museum boasts all the relevant amenities, such as a museum shop, a lovely restaurant, education spaces, and a library containing 4,500 volumes. There is also a 190-seat amphitheater, where screenings, concerts, and other events can take place. The foundation is headed by Elise Goulandris’ niece Fleurette Karadonti (President), and the museum’s director Kyriakos Koutsomallis, plus his daughter Marie Koutsomallis-Moreau (the collection’s chief curator). Their plan is to rotate the paintings of the collection on a regular basis, so that visitors can eventually get to see them all.
The collection includes lovely pieces of sculpture, such as the Giacometti below
And a little dancer by Degas, which caused major controversy in its time, being presented in a glass case and with the addition of tulle, leather and ribbon.
There is a luminous room of works on paper, such as the Matisse below.
And a floor devoted to major and rising Greek artists. See below two beautiful works by Tsarouhis.
Like many diaspora Greeks, Basil and Elise had a deep love for their motherland, and always wanted to give something back to Greece. Having no children, they dedicated themselves to art, and their Paris home became a meeting place for many personalities of the art world, such as Callas, Baryshnikov, Balthus and Chagall, whose portrait of Elise graces the entrance.
However, finding a site for the museum took several years because its original location, a plot next to the Byzantine and Christian Museum, yielded an amazing archaeological find during construction: Aristotle’s Lyceum. After many setbacks, all obstacles were happily overcome, and the new museum is already teeming with visitors.
The collection is certainly unique, and I advise anyone planning to go to make time for lunch or at least a coffee and cake in the restaurant. The food is delicious and the waiters super friendly.
All photographs are mine, which is why they’re very moderate. The light in the museum was low, in order both to preserve the works but also to bring out their wonderful colors.