A new outdoor exhibition showcasing portraits of the heroes of the 1821 Revolution was inaugurated a few days ago, at Vasilissis Sophias street in Athens, right in front of the National Gardens.
The exhibition for the 200-year anniversary of the Greek Revolution, which constitutes 22 original paintings, has already captured the attention of passers-by, who stop to take photos with the Greek soldiers and heroes.
The leader of the Greek War of Independence, Theodoros Kolokotronis, is portrayed with an intense, penetrating look, while the military officer, Yannis Makriyannis, is seen focusing his gaze afar. Portraits of Lazaros Kountouriotis, Nikitaras, Ioannis Kolettis, Panoutsos Notaras, and Greek general Markos Botsaris, among others, can also be seen across Vasilissis Sophias street.
“The exhibition is an oasis of knowledge in our city, which is currently in repression due to the virus outbreak and the measures to contain it,” stated Dimitra Koukiou, historian and deputy director at the National History Museum of Greece.
“It is important that we explain to young children today that the heroes of our Revolution, to which we owe our freedom today, were just simple, everyday people, who were forced to live under such circumstances, and now are a source of inspirations for all Greeks,” Ms. Koukiou added.
The portraits of the exhibition are part of a bigger series of paintings of the emblematic figures of the Greek Revolution, and were created by the first Belgian commissioner and diplomatic representative in Greece, Benjamin Marie (1792-1846).
Marie painted a total of 320 portraits from 1839 until 1844, mainly during his time in Athens, and was heavily inspired by the stories and legends of the 1821 victorious Revolution against Turkey.
His gallery of historical figures, which were all painted with just a pen, remained unknown to the general public up until recently. The artist’s long lost albums, gravures and other paintings became publicly available for purchase at an auction in London a few years ago.
Sylvia Ioannou from Cyprus, an avid collector of rare art pieces and books, found out about the London auction and bought 22 of Marie’s paintings with the Greek Revolution warriors.
Ms. Ioannou created the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation in 2009, which is now based in Liechtenstein, and has so far collected more than 3,000 old maps, rare relics, paintings and publications concerning Cyprus, Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The main reason and passion for her collection were her longing for Greece and her place of birth, Cyprus, which she was forced to abandon after the Turkish invasion in 1974, as her family’s home was located in the neutral zone of the island.
Benjamin Marie’s paintings are all imprinted on paper, since they were created before the advent of photography, and are now published for the first time in Greece, and have become a part of the Athenian everyday life.
What is particularly intriguing about Marie is that he was only an amateur painter and a botanist, who came to Greece during the reign of Otto in 1839.
He showed great interest not just in the heroes and fighters of the Revolution, but also in the ordinary people of Greece, during a time of war, pain and poverty.
His paintings bring us into close contact with known and unknown figures of the Independence fight, such as politicians, priests, scholars, philhellenes, and everyday people, all of which posed patiently for Marie’s portraits.
The exhibition, which is called “History has a Face” is a special tribute, made thanks to the collaboration of the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, the National History Museum and the Municipality of Athens, which are initiating the 1821 anniversary celebrations, even in the midst of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.
“The Greek Revolution was so inspirational, not only in Greece, but also abroad, as numerous artists, poets and authors wrote about it and praised Greece,” Ms. Koukiou pointed out.
“Benjamin Marie’s collection is very important to us because it portrays figures that we have heard and read about in our history books, but have never actually seen them. So, this is an opportunity for us to see the faces of famous names taking shape in original portraits, to showcase our local history and to understand more about the whole Greek community of the times.”