Bavarian officer captures images of Independence War heroes

An exhibition which recently opened at the National Gallery of Nafplion in the Peloponnese sheds light on the interesting story of Philhellene Karl Kratzeisen. The Bavarian captain spent time in Greece in 1826, and the portraits he drew while in the country captured some of the most important figures of the 1821 Greek War of Independence, such as Georgios Karaiskakis, Theodoros Kolokotronis and Yiannis Makriyiannis, whose portraits have been in Greek schoolbooks for decades. These are portraits Kratzeisen drew over the one year he was in Greece, when the country was in the grip of a bloody civil war. In just a few months, Kratzeisen had the opportunity to visit almost all the army camps where the heroes of the 1821 revolution were serving. The only figures missing from his collection are Athanassios Diakos, Markos Botsaris and Papaflessas, and this is because they died before Kratzeisen came to Greece. It is also worth noting that the only incomplete portrait is that of Karaiskakis, whom the artist saw just a short while before he fell at Faliron. Kratzeisen would draw the warriors in pencil, in their natural surroundings and would then have them sign the portrait. In 1827 Kratzeisen returned home and took his portraits with him, making lithographs of them between 1828 and 1831 and then publishing them in numerous copies. For some 100 years, Kratzeisen’s original works were kept in the care of his heirs and were not made public until 1926, when the then director of the National Gallery made a very generous offer to purchase them on behalf of the Greek State. The Nafplion exhibition brings together all 20 of Kratzeisen’s magnificent portraits, as well as a collection of his watercolors. While the Bavarian captain never received a formal education in art, his drawings cannot in any way be considered amateurish as they show his incisive look at his subjects and a steady, precise technique. His portraits also show a tendency to idealize his subjects according to the romanticism that prevailed during that artistic period. The exhibition is curated by Marilena Kassimati and runs to April 30.