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Art and Artists in Corfu

Art and Artists in Corfu

Following the Ottoman conquest of mainland Greece, the islands were inundated by religious painters who developed a significantly western style of iconography (dubbed the Ionian school). Corfu began to develop an artistic tradition about the early 16th century. At that time in Crete, which was also a Venetian possession, flourished an important school of painting known as the 'Cretan School'. When Crete fell to the Turks a large number of families migrated to Corfu bringing with them many icons. So Corfu soon grew into an important centre of cultural activity. One can find today a lot of icons painted by Michael Damaskinos (the great iconographer of the Cretan School), Emmanuel Lambardos, George Kotzias, Angelos the Cretan, Jeremiah Palladas and George Kortezas in many churches on the island and in the Byzantine Museum of Corfu.

One of the outstanding exponents of Greek religious painting in the 17th century was Father Emmanuel Tzanes. He was born in Crete and died in Venice. Tzanes left his native island in 1646 and came to Corfu where he lived and worked until 1655. Five of his paintings belong to the Byzantine Church of Saints Jason and Sosipater. Other icons may be seen at the church of Panayia ton Xenon, in the Byzantine Museum, in the church of St. Nichola dei Vecchi and in the monastery of Blessed Virgin Platitera. Also six icons by Tzanes have been recently found in the church of St. George in the Old Fortress.

Another Cretan painter of the second half of the 17th century who lived in Corfu, is Theodore Poulakis. His icons are housed in the Byzantine Museum, in the Monastery of Blessed Virgin Platytera, in the church of Blessed Virgin in Kassiopi and in the church of St. Nicholas in Viros.

The 18th century marks the end of the orthodox tradition of religious painting in the Ionian islands and the rise of Venetian influence.

Constantine Cantarinis and Father Stephen Tzangarolas are representatives of the icon painters who flourished at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th. Some of their works can be found in the Byzantine Museum, in the church of St. Catherine, in theGreek Orthodox Cathedral and in the church of Panayia ton Xenon.

Another painter who lived and died in Corfu during this period is Panayiotis Doxaras who is considered the founder of a school known as the Septinsular School of Painting which set religious iconography free from all ties with Byzantine tradition, leading Ionian religious painting into the main stream of Western art. Doxaras also introduced into Greek iconography the technique of oil-painting which replaced the old method of mixing pigments with egg yolk. His main work was the decoration on the ceiling of the Church of St. Spyridon, painted in 1727.

Other painters who lived and worked in Corfu during this period are Alexander Trivolis-Pieris, Panayiotis Paramythiotis, George Chrysoloras (who produced a considerable number of works both traditional and Italianate), Spyridon Sperantzas, Spyridon Ventouras, Father Nikolaos Coutouzis and Father Nikolaos Cantounis.

The sculptor and painter Paul Prosalentis is the first neoclassical sculptor of modern Greece. His contribution to the revival of fine arts in modern Greece was extensive. John Kalosgouros was a sculptor, an architect and a painter. Some of his works are the marble bust of Countess Helen Mocenigo, and a portrait of Nikolaos Mantzaros, both in Corfu Town.

John Chronis the architect, was another exponent of the Fine Arts in Corfu. His works reflect the prevailing neoclassical trend. Some of his most important works are the Capodistria Mansion, the Ionian Bank, the former Ionian Parliament, the churches of St. Sophia and All Saints and the little church of Mandrakina. As well as many private buildings in Corfu town and in the countryside.

A lot of Corfu painters carried on the tradition from the 19th century to our own times. Dionysios Veyias was born in Cephalonia in 1819 but lived and died in Corfu. Veyias is considered to be one of the first to practice the art of engraving in Greece. The painter Charalambos Pachis founded in 1870 a private school of painting in the island. He is considered as the most important landscape painter of the Septinsular School of Painting. Angelos Giallinas specialized in water-colours. Many of his works have been acquired by art galleries and private collectors in Greece and abroad. Most of his works have a unique feeling of the beauty of Corfu landscape, and he is considered a water-colour painter of the highest order. A well known painter is George Samartzis whose work is almost restricted to portrait painting.

Spyridon Scarrellis is best known for his water-colours. One of his works is the paintings on the ceiling in the main hall of the Capodistrias Mansion. Markos Zavitsianos excelled in portrait painting and is considered an outstanding exponent of pictorial art in Greece. He was a highly sensitive engraver and his etchings and lithographs are excellent products of that delicate and difficult art.

Many artists have been drawn to Corfu by the opportunities it offers. Edward Lear lived semi-permanently in Corfu during the years 1855-58 and 1861-64. His "Views in the Seven Ionian Islands" was published in 1863.

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