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Greek Art in the European Context Alexander Xy dis To understand the specific features of the genesis and development of contemporary Greek art, in the context of the development of European art, one must remember that: a) after hellenistic times, Greece and Athens, its center, survived on the cultural and artistic periphery, becoming ever more provincial as the empires of Rome and Constantinople grew and declined; b) there was no Renaissance in Greece. Its "dark ages" started with the Turkish conquest in the fifteenth century and lasted down to the nineteenth. The fourteenth to fifteenth century blossoming, chiefly of painting (frescoes, ikons) at Mystras, in Epirus and in Macedonia, was but the last reflection of the Paleologan revival in Constantinople. This could perhaps have turned into some sort of "renaissance" had the Polis not fallen to the Turks. After 1453, all channels of cultural communication with the East were severed for Greece. To the West, the only channels open were Crete, where there was an important renascence (both literary and artistic) before it fell to the Turks (1669), and the Ionian Islands, which were never occupied by the Turks. To the north, the Balkan mainland continued to be a battlefield between Europeans and Turks down to the end of the eighteenth century. It follows that, at independence in 1830, there was in Greece no eponymous painting or sculpture to speak of in the conventional western sense, except in the Ionian Islands, which were part of Hellenism but not yet, culturally and politically, part of the Kingdom of the Hellenes, and which, therefore, had closer cultural intercourse with Italy than with the Greek mainland. There existed numerous artisans (who did not always qualify for the title of artists) working in sináfia (guilds) or in bouloúkia (teams)— in their more mobile form—of painters, wood- or stone-carvers, masons , etc., who carried on their trade collectively and usually anonymously , travelling to the outer extremities of Hellenism, from Lebanon to Rumania, from Egypt and Palestine to Venice and Hungary. Of these men very few have come down to us by name. One of the more outstanding was the fresco painter Pagonis, from the painters' 141 142 Alexander Xydis village of Hioniades in Epirus, who worked mainly in the Pelion area in the first years of the nineteenth century. He left there a number of ensembles of religious frescoes, most of them signed and dated from 1801 to 1804. Another eponymous artist of those times was Panayotis Zografos, the freedom-fighter and painter from Vordonia in the Péloponnèse, who illustrated the memoirs of Makriyannis, faithfully putting down (1836-1839) in tempera the general's accounts of his many battles in the War of Independence.1 Pagonis and Zografos, about whom very little outside their works is known, appear to have been the last notable upholders of the long tradition of an art still close to the ordinary people and descended from the Byzantine tradition which was being gradually transmuted during the eighteenth century from religious into "cosmic " (worldly, lay or secular) art. At the beginning of the century, Pagonis still painted wholly religious work, with lay motifs included in some of the scenes. Thirty years later, Zografos' known work is wholly secular except for a few ikons. Their works show them more at ease and at the best of their talent when they are seeking to free themselves from the narrow, sterile discipline of Byzantine painting. With independence, the renewal (perhaps heralded by such works) which would certainly have been a slow and long process, was cut short. An indigenous tradition, it was pushed so deeply underground that it was for all purposes lost. This disappearance can be ascribed to a) a weakening of an art basically religious that could no longer renew itself, and b) the fading away of any demand for such an art. Everything that reminded the Gallicized Fanariots, the prosper- 'The conflict of mentalities involved in the process of cultural "westernization " is illustrated in the story of these paintings. Makriyannis first engaged a "Frankish painter ... he made two or three illustrations [ikonografies], They were not good ... I paid him and he left. After I had sent...


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