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.
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.
Last night, Greek tennis whiz kid Stefanos Tsitsipas managed to beat his hero, Roger Federer, in the ATP semifinal, thus reaching the biggest final of his career.
On the tennis.com site last night a headline blared:
NEARLY UNBREAKABLE: TERRIFIC TSITSIPAS TAKES OUT FEDERER AT ATP FINALS
The Greek saved 11 of the 12 break points he faced to win the first semifinal at the season finale in London.
I posted about Stefanos Tsitsipas before here. Yesterday he overpowered his all-time hero Roger Federer, 6-3, 6-4, at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. The 17-year age gap between Tsitsipas (21) and Federer (38) was the largest in tournament history.
The day before, Tsitsipas had played a taxing match in a grueling three-set loss to Rafael Nadal. But he overcame his weariness and any nerves at realizing the whole stadium was rooting for Federer. At the end he was all smiles and disbelief that he could even find himself in such a position. In his own words: « I’m really proud that I managed to save so many break points today. I was trying not to give an easy time to Roger. Playing him is the biggest honor that I can have. Today’s victory is probably one of my best matches of this season. These are the moments I always wait for and want to prove the best out of my game.”
Some days before, he hadn’t even be sure he’d qualify for the event, and found out in public. See below:
Tonight he faces world no 5 Dominic Thiem in the final. Best of luck to him. 🍀🍀🍀🇬🇷
Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Japanese artist YayoiKusama. I’ve already done two posts about her (here and here) , because I find both her art and her personality fascinating. Despite now being ninety years old and living in a psychiatric facility, Yayoi Kusama is more prolific than ever. According to the New York Times, the show openings of the ‘Japanese mastermind of obsessively dotted paintings, hallucinatory pumpkins and sometimes blandly decorative installations, have become the art world’s equivalent of Star Wars premieres.’
Her new exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York is entitled ‘Every day I pray for love,’ and features one of her famous infinity rooms, a mirrored chamber filled with reflective steel orbs. The exhibition is free, but the public will have to wait for hours in line, and can expect to stay in the infinity room for a minute at most.
You can read an article about it on Artnet News (here)
For the Paris art fair FIAC 2019 in October, Kusama also had one her spotty pumpkins set at the Place de Vendôme. This was a gigantic, 10m high inflatable structure covered in black dots.
Last, but not least, of my London outings, was the stunning exhibition of Mark Bradford’s work at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery.
Los Angeles artist Bradford is known for his large, grid-like paintings which combine paint with collage.
The paintings have to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. He uses a complicated process of layering: the fabric of each painting is formed from strata of pigmented paper which are scored, lacerated and stripped away, along with lengths of rope which are stretched or coiled, sometimes painted over and sometimes ripped out to leave ruts in the surface of the work. See detail below.
Bradford worked as a hairdresser (his mother owned a beauty salon) and only went to study at the California Institute of the Arts in 1991 at the age of 30.
Throughout his career, he has collected ‘merchant posters’ which are printed sheets posted in neighborhoods, advertising services such as cheap transitional housing, foreclosure prevention, food assistance, debt relief, wigs, jobs, DNA-derived paternity testing, gun shows and quick cash, as well as legal advice for immigrants, child custody and divorce.
Bradford transforms the materials he scavenges from the street into wall-size collages and installations; he is inspired by subjects as diverse as civil riots, migrant communities, abandoned public spaces and, in this instance, mythology.
The exhibition is entitled Cerberus, a reference to the many headed dog guarding the entryway to Hades. It is a metaphor representing the ‘in-between’, places difficult and fissured. As he says himself, Cerberus is an “ambivalent character. Is he keeping people out or is he keeping people in?”
I’ve been fascinated by Bradford’s work for a while – the only other artist I know who uses texture to such effect is Anselm Kiefer. But I’ve seen Kiefer’s work live before – this was the first time I’ve been close to a Bradford painting. I was blown away by their sheer size and presence.
During my London trip I managed to get a slot to see the Da Vinci drawings in the Queen’s Gallery.
Marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, this exhibition showed more than 200 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection. There was but one word to describe them: they were magical.
Loving works on paper as I do, I literally did not know where to look first: there were the most delicate flowers and plants, drawn with the precision of a botanist, yet filled with life in a unique way. It was a known fact that if Leonardo had to put a few flowers in the corner of a painting, he made dozens of studies before deciding which to use. Look at those acorns below, they seem to glow on the page.
Then there were maps which must have made the adventure-loving amongst his peers long to go off and explore.
The drawings in the Royal Collection used to be bound up in a book that was acquired by Charles II. The pages have now been separated so that the drawings can be shown in their full beauty. They provide an extraordinary insight into the workings of Leonardo’s mind and reflect the full range of his interests, including painting, sculpture, architecture, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany.
See below his scheme on how to breach a fortress’s walls.