CULTURE

Ongoing worldwide tour of post-Byzantine icons

The almost decade-long world tour of the Velimezis collection of post-Byzantine religious icons is currently on a stop at the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Gallery. This is the institution that holds the «Codex Sinaiticus,» a manuscript of great scholarly interest in Byzantine studies. The exhibition, which differs from the earlier ones that have visited other wordwide destinations, consists of 14 icons on the subject of «The Adoration and Passion» and is structured around «The Passion of Christ – Pieta with Angels» by Domenikos Theotocopoulos (El Greco). Among the roughly 90 works in the collection (of which 10 works have not yet been recovered), this icon dates from 1566 and is held to be the collection’s most important. It was identified in 1996 by the collection’s curator, professor Nano Hadzidakis. The exhibition opens with the «Triumph of Orthodoxy,» an early 16th century icon which refers to the restoration of the cult of icons by the Byzantine Empress Theodora. The exhibition of the Velimezis collection at the British Library is being held on the occasion of the 21st International Congress of Byzantine Studies which took place in London in late August. It is organized by the London branch of the Hellenic Foundation of Culture in collaboration with the Benaki Museum and the British Library. The Benaki Museum owns 16 icons of the Velimezis collection which were donated by the collector’s heirs after his untimely death in 1946. A Greek of Alexandria, Emilios Velimezis was a friend and collaborator of Antonis Benakis. He began collecting post-Byzantine icons in the inter-war period and showed a preference for icons of the so-called Cretan school, in other words, icons produced in Venetian-held Crete during the 15th and 16th centuries which stylistically resemble Venetian Renaissance painting. In 1943, Velimezis appointed Manolis Hadzidakis with the study of the collection and a publication of a catalogue raisonne yet the project was cut short with the death of the collector. It was completed by Nano Hadzidaki in the early 1990s. Since the collection’s first public showing in 1997 and thanks to the efforts of Christos Margaritis, a nephew of Emilios Velimezis, the collection has been shown in major museums abroad. This international tour – which fulfills Velimezis’s wishes to make the collection as accessible as possible to the general public – has included stops in Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, South Korea and Peru. Forthcoming locales include an exhibition at the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum and in the coming spring an exhibition at Berlin’s Bode Museum (the third showing in Germany). One of the tour’s intentions is to enhance scholarly attention to the Byzantine period. The fact that the London exhibition ran parallel to the International Congress of Byzantine Studies makes it a success in that respect. A number of icons from the Velimezis collection have already been included in major scholarly works. «Adoration and Passion, Icons from the Velimezis Collection» at London’s British Library to September 21.