CULTURE

More on the life of a great man

Before stepping into the exhibit, a collection of photographs showing Antonis Benakis at various stages of his life carry the viewer back in time and provide valuable information on the life and vocations of this great man. Antonis Benakis was the son of Emmanouil Benakis, who settled in Egypt in 1865 and soon became a successful trader in the cotton business. Antonis Benakis and his five siblings (the well-known writer Penelope Delta among them) were raised in the cosmopolitan, affluent society of Alexandria. After studies in London, he returned home and worked in the family cotton business. He was always interested in Greek national matters – he fought in the Balkan wars – and settled in Athens in 1926. Continuing what was a family tradition, Antonis Benakis was one of the most important benefactors of the Greek community in Alexandria as well as Greece. An ardent collector of all things related to the history of Greece and broader Hellenism but also of Islamic, Egyptian and Coptic art, he founded the Benaki Museum in Athens in 1930. The museum was housed in the former Benaki family mansion – its premises also today. Throughout his life, Benakis made many donations to major institutions in the country, among them the National Gallery, the Byzantine Museum, the School of Fine Arts and the Thessaloniki Museum. He was actively involved in the Greek Archaeological Society and other important institutions. He was the founder of the Cotton Institute, the Greek-Egyptian Association, the Institute of Phytopathology and one of the major benefactors of Athens College. He also helped to advance scouting in Greece and was a founding member of the Greek Yacht Club. Driven by patriotic sentiments, Antonis Benakis was a philanthropist and patron of the arts, a man of diverse talents and interests, a man who believed in the public good. A biography of Antonis Benakis, written by Efthymios Souloyiannis and published by Kastaniotis Publishers, on the occasion of the tribute to its founder by the Benaki Museum, maps out in detail the life and contributions of this public figure.