CULTURE

The Velimezis collection continues tour

During the interwar period, a man by the name of Aimilios Velimezis started collecting religious icons from the post-Byzantine period. A Greek who was living in Alexandria, Velimezis was prompted by the urge of the time to strengthen the sense of Greek identity which, after the Asia Minor disaster, appeared to be at risk. The roughly 90 total icons of the collection were subsequently dispersed to small private collections and various institutions. Several of them were donated to the Benaki Museum, whose founder, Antonis Benakis, had been a friend and close collaborator of Velimezis. However, the collection was never fully documented or publicized until around a decade ago when the Benaki Museum undertook a program of tracing, documenting and restoring the icons of the Velimezis collection in collaboration with Christos Margaritis, who manages the collection and its exhibitions. The collector’s sudden death in 1946 cut short a study for the exhibition’s catalogue raisonné that Velimezis had appointed to the academician Manolis Chatzidakis, in the early ’40s when the latter was director of the Benaki Museum. Nano Chatzidaki, his daughter, is now the researcher and curator of the collection. It was not until 1997 that the first exhibition of the Velimezis collection took place. It was held in Thessaloniki, which was Cultural Capital of Europe at the time, and was soon followed by a tour of prestigious museums worldwide. Continuing its tour, the Velimezis collection is currently being shown in part (47 icons in total) at the Cultural Foundation of Tinos. The 14th successive exhibition of the collection, it is held in collaboration with the Benaki Museum and is yet one more opportunity to marvel at unique pieces of post-Byzantine religious icons – particularly of the so-called Cretan school – and to appreciate the value of a collection which is said to add valuable evidence on ecclesiastical painting of the mid-15th century on. The Tinos exhibition includes one of the collection’s gems, El Greco’s «The Passion of Christ» from 1566, around a year before the artist, just 25 years old but already widely acknowledged, left his homeland of Crete and headed off to Italy. The painting’s attribution to El Greco is a relatively recent discovery and is credited to Nano Chatzidaki. It is the fourth known and signed work that belongs to the Cretan period of Domenikos Theotokopoulos. Painted in an iconographical style not common in the Byzantine tradition, with Christ shown as held by three angels, «The Passion of Christ» is a stylistic blend of Western religious painting with the style used in Cretan icons. The icon is said to anticipate El Greco’s mature works of his «Spanish period» such as «The Holy Trinity,» which he painted for the high altar of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo. Besides the El Greco icon, one also finds in the exhibition other specimens of the Cretan school of icon painting. Among them are «The Miracle of the Holy Girdle» painted in the second half of the 17th century by the prolific painter Emmanuel Tzanes. An icon with an unusual subject matter is «The 24 Stanzas of the Akathistos Hymn,» a panel from the early 16th century which stylistically is heavily influenced by Renaissance art. At the Cultural Foundation of Tinos (22830 29070) to 29/8.