Digging into the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods

The study of history and the past imparts its students with a sense of rootedness, continuity and even some mysterious connection to what Jung referred to as the «collective unconscious.» This may have compelled the late George Tsolozides to probe the past – mainly the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods – and collect objects and artworks that could help document Greek civilization. The exhibition «George Tsolozides Collection, Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art,» currently on display at the Byzantine and Christian Museum, spotlights this man’s lifetime commitment. This is also the first large presentation of the Tsolozides collection in Athens. It includes 220 of the collection’s 2,000 objects from the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods and ranges from jewelry and small objects to icons and fragments of wood-carved templa (or screens separating the nave of the church from the sanctuary). Thanks to the initiative of Tsolozides’s daughter, Mata Tsolozides-Zisiades – who is in charge of documenting, managing and enriching the collection – many of the exhibition’s items have been shown before at the Old Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture, both in Thessaloniki, as well as at the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies in Venice. A practicing dentist who was born in Cairo and moved to Greece in 1955, when he was in his late 20s, George Tsolozides became an ardent collector. He obtained a collector’s license but also became knowledgeable in restoration techniques, thus developing a more hands-on relationship with his collection. Tsolozides’s vision was to document the continuity of Greek civilization from Neolithic times through the 19th century. His focus, however, was on Byzantine and post-Byzantine art, which is the period in Greek history for which his collection is known. The uniqueness of this collection is highlighted in the great number of small utility objects in the exhibition. Tsolozides had a particular fondness for scavenging objects from the daily and private lives of the Byzantines. These objects are less ceremonial, and perhaps a little mundane, but that is why they are also touching. They show in subtle strokes the way people in the past lived. The objects in the first part of the exhibition relate to daily life, while the second part is devoted to worship. The first half includes an exhibit showing a variety of coins made of gold or copper and decorated with inscriptions or letters, as well as padlocks, keys, and scales used for weighing. The objects are strikingly well preserved, even those made from fragile materials, such as the fifth-century ceramic oil lamp with incised decoration. In the second half of the exhibition are personal items connected to religious worship, as well as icons intended for public spaces. Examples include the enkolpia, which were apotropaic amulets worn by the faithful as pendants or pilgrim flasks that contained sanctified oil. Most impressive in the collection are the icons and wood-carved templa. A late 18th century wood-carved sanctuary door with painted representations of the Annunciation, prophets and the saints is typical of the tall templa of the time and their intricate decorative foliage and animal motifs. An interesting aspect of the exhibition is that it allows stylistic comparisons between the icons produced in the post-Byzantine period in different regions of the former Byzantine Empire. The icons produced in the workshops of northern Greece, for example, seem rigid especially when compared to those produced in Crete and the Ionian Islands, where the Western influence left by Venetian rule continued through the post-Byzantine period. There are also Russian icons, which are said to have been particularly popular in Greece in the 18th and 19th centuries, and a few icons from Asia Minor. A tendency for rendering space as realistically as possible is a feature of those icons produced in the Asia Minor region, in Constantinople, Thrace, Potnos and Cappadocia. The icons are the exhibition’s epilogue. This is a small but tight exhibition that bears the collector’s distinctive taste and highlights aspects both of public and domestic life in Byzantium. «George Tsolozides Collection, Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art,» at the Byzantine and Christian Museum (22 Vassilissis Sofias, 210.721.1170) through August 31.

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