Greek heroes’ images recorded

Picture the following scene: During a short break from waging war, Theodoros Kolokotronis poses in Troizina for a Bavarian officer who has asked to draw his portrait. In just a short time, his pencils have created the «Old Man of Morias» on paper, and an image goes down in history. Karl Kratzeisen (1794-1878), a self-taught artist who lived in Greece in 1826 and 1827, is responsible for recording the images of the pantheon of the 1821 War of Independence heroes, or, at least, those who were still alive when he arrived. Kratzeisen’s historically significant work – the portraiture of independence heroes such as Constantinos Kanaris and Petrobeis Mavromichalis – is on show for the first time in Greece at the National Gallery’s branch in Nafplion through April 30. It was via these drawings that the independence heroes were personified for future generations in schoolbooks, even though the prints were distorted versions of the originals. In an interview with Kathimerini, Marilena Kassimati, curator of the National Gallery, discussed the history of these works, from the hands of Kratzeisen in 1827 to Nafplion in 2005. What are you presenting in the Nafplion exhibition? The portraits of the 1821 war heroes, lots of portraits of philhellenes, poets, writers, as well as drafts of ethological scenes in Aegina and Ambelakia. Kratzeisen also drew the two new vessels that had been acquired by the Greek fleet at a difficult time: the frigate Hellas and the steamship Karteria. The officer himself never signed his works, which means that had his family not decided to sell them to Greece, we would not have known who the artist was. His signature appears only on works he drew in 1931 in Munich. More specifically, Kratzeisen’s brother-in-law offered to sell the works which he had held on to, aware of their great worth. He was a professor of Romanian descent who decided to approach [[Nikolaos] Gyzis, who was also a professor in Munich. When the painter saw the works, he immediately realized that they had to be acquired by the Greek state. Are there any portraits of our independence heroes by other artists? Kratzeisen was the only one who depicted the freedom fighters. The difference is clear if one sees the works of other artists who had imagined the war heroes based on related readings. [The freedom fighters] Odysseus Androutsos, Papaflessas and Marcos Botsaris all qualify for this category, as they had already died and weren’t depicted by the Bavarian but by other artists who tried to imagine what they looked like. In his well-known painting «Grateful Greece,» Gyzis presented a series of freedom fighters based on Kratzeisen’s works, as well as other figures who are the result of his imagination. What kind of a character was Kratzeisen? He lived and grew up during the romantic period of liberation movements. Although we don’t know too much about his artistic education, we do know that he drew all the time. He had also served as a fashion designer for the Russian army, meaning he designed its attire. Kratzeisen joined the army, a vocational choice that offered security, considering that, historically, this was the post-Napoleonic era. A Bavarian, but also a philhellene, he decided to come to Greece and fight on the side of the struggling populace. He took off with an expeditionary force established by the Bavarian leader Ludwig I. The force’s objective was to train Greece’s new army. It is certain that he was intelligent and had grasped that he was living an historic moment. He must have been on the alert constantly, and both drew and took part in battles. He made the fighters sign the portraits? The signatures are a sign of authenticity. They also show who was better educated by the way they signed their names. The signatures also made it to the lithographs, providing historians with information. [Georgios] Karaiskakis, for example, died before Kratzeisen managed to complete his portrait. In it, one can see that he suffered from tuberculosis and was downcast. But his gaze remained intense and Kratzeisen depicts him with fiery eyes. Apart from the drawings, did the Bavarian leave behind any writings? He didn’t leave us any memoirs and didn’t keep notes… Kratzeisen’s hand does not make mistakes. He had a good eye and talent. He portrays the individuals, not the battles, knowing that portraits enchant and condense history. An officer and an artist «Kratzeisen’s role in the account of the Greek War of Independence seems like that of an early war correspondent,» said Marilena Kassimati, the National Gallery’s curator. «The philhellene officer came to our country during a very difficult phase of the revolution… in 1826, with the Bavarian expeditionary force. He didn’t come here just to draw, but to fight as well. We know that he took part in the historical assault on Athens on March 6 and on the Acropolis on April 22, 1827, under the command of [French philhellene] Faviero. But his amazing penchant for drawing prompted him to capture the images of war heroes he met from one army barrack to another. He made them sign them. He returned home and submitted his drawings for lithographical prints that made it to Greece. The National Gallery has had this rare treasure in its possession since 1926, when it purchased the collection from Kratzeisen’s successors. I first saw the works in 1985, when I began working at the gallery. They had never been formally exhibited until now.»  

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