Collections per Theme
a. Religious themes
The religious themes are, undoubtedly, abundant in 17th and 18th century Corfiot Art. The need to depict and decorate the temples, constructed at the time, along with the presence of many Cretan painters on the island, define the framework in which this genre was developed. The small group of 17th and 18th century icons in the Municipal gallery, deriving from the church of the 1st Municipal Cemetery, are works which demonstrate the gradual detachment from the iconographic principles of Byzantine art while they also demonstrate the emergence of other styles of art such as those of the Italian, particularly Venetian Renaissance, Mannerism and the Baroque. Michael Damaskinos’ “The Beheading of Prodromos” and the “Stoning of Saint Stephanos” along with Emmanuel Lombardos’s “Non me tangere”, all three Cretan creations, are works which among others significantly affect the future generations of Corfiot artists. On the contrary, the painting “Saints Peter and Paul”, by an unknown artist, appears to prolong the Byzantine tradition, remaining attached to its style.
The 19th century painting “Vrephocratousa” (Mother and Child), by Haralampos Pahis, proves the extent to which Corfiot painting has been liberated from the Byzantine tradition. The artist here has been influenced by the Italian Art and is mainly concerned with the design’s accuracy, the plasticity of the volumes and the blending of cool and warm colours. Beyond any doubt what prevails is the idealistic elements emphasizing the innerness of forms. Georgios Samartzis moves towards the same direction in “Last Supper”, where the elements imposed by the Italian Renaissance, are dominant. The painting demonstrates the link between Corfiot artists and western Art through the emphasis on the role of architectural elements in space organization, the rich colours, the symbolic elements and the dominating central figure of Jesus.
Similar characteristics also appear in 20th century painting “Crucifixion” by Phillipos Makotsis. Here, we are presented with profound styles of Mannerism: an acentric composition, dynamic diagonal themes, the figures’ intense gestures, a dramatic context, nearly unrealistic colours and finally a plurality of geometrical elements; all prevalent characteristics in this attempt.
Portraiture is a most significant genre -second to that of religious context- in the Ionian art scene. It is the genre, which heralds the commencement of secular painting while, at the same time, it offers painters the possibility to partially detach themselves from church commissions. Additionally, painters now have the potential to attempt new ways of expression and to address a wider and more diversified audience. Generally, the expansion of portraiture in the Ionian Islands depends upon two factors: Firstly, the creator’s contact with western art and secondly the development of a middle-class, closely linked to the aristocracy. The latter had both the financial means and the ambition to commission portraits of its family members. The 18th century is the century during which portraiture becomes dominant within the Ionian art.
During the development of portraiture, certain characteristics gradually took form. These set the basis for the portrayal of a homogenous artistic expression. One of them is, without any doubt, the Corfiot artists’ efforts to remain attached to the realistic representation of those depicted. The portrayal is always done with respect to the accurate impression of the facial features even when that particular face is not distinguished for its beauty. Hence, the Ionian creators’ principal aim is not the beautification of external appearances but the inner veracity of the form. Nor is it the idealization of certain features or the embellishment of the face; instead their aim is the accurate depiction as well as the psychological penetration into the subject. The portrayed faces are characterized by their austerity and formality, elements which are even more accentuated by the choice of colours on the painting surface. The depth, undefined and depicted in dark colours, is hardly ever accompanied by supplementary themes. Hardly ever are supplementary elements used on garments or jewellery, so that all the attention is focused on the portrayed person.
Notable works of this genre are “Andreas Moustoksidis”, of unknown artist, “King George 1st ” and “Queen Olga” by Vikentios Bokachiabis and “Yerasimos Aspiotis” by Georgios Samartzis. Periklis Tsirighotis’ “Portrait of a Young Lady”, is based on rich colours and idealistic elements, while the “Beggar” by Aggeliki Papa and the “Portrait of Camille Flammarion” by Ten Floria, demonstrate the shift of focus from an external description to an inner truth. Finally, Aghlaia Papa’s proficiency in portraiture is also noteworthy regarding a series of works which are distinguished for the penetration into the inner world and the attempt to present a psychological portrait of the person portrayed.
c. Historic theme
Although, after the 1821 Revolution, modern Greek art can demonstrate a plurality of works of art focused on the national struggle for liberation, Corfiot artists seem to be moved by this historic event only minimally. Thus, during the 19th century, such themes spring up sparsely and their occasional presence does not in any case prove any systematic preoccupation with this genre. Actually, very few artists are engaged in it, a fact which is probably connected to the political climate in Corfu at the time.
Spyridon Prosalentis paints one of the first works of this genre, the “1821 Warrior”, in which he remains within the boundaries of academic painting. He emphasizes the external representational elements, the accentuated movement and the somewhat strong colours. In this way, he succeeds in an idealization of the form and the promotion of the heroic characteristics of the painting while at the same time he expresses the romantic context of the scene.
Georgios Miniatis appears to follow the same idealistic formulations in his work “Souliotisses” (Women from Souli). The austere composition, the accentuation of the typical characteristics, as opposed to the more particular ones, and the evocative colouration transfer the focus from the specific to the general and thus depicts the fight for freedom.
The most important work of art of the Gallery with such a historic theme is the “Capodistrias’ Assassination”, by Haralampos Pahis. Here, the artist uses a series of new elements as far as Corfiot painting is concerned. Within the painting drawing accuracy and folklore elements coexist in perfect harmony. The colours themselves evoke the tragic context of the painting. It is a painting, containing many figures, in which intense gestures and realistic elements, architectural complexes and compact space, all collaborate to convey the theme, to capture the deadly atmosphere, to give a form to emotions and to emphasize the rage against the action
d. Genre painting
Genre painting dominates European painting through realism. The fact that 19th century Corfiot artists get involved in genre painting was an unavoidable consequence. This theme is very different from the past so called “Great Painting” of religious and mythological scenes and is interested in the common and the familiar, the daily and the proximate, depicting figures and subjects from everyday life. It is established by important Corfiot artists during the last 25 years of the 19th century and continues to be practiced during the 20th century.
Pavlos Prosalentis Junior and Periklis Tsirighotis were pioneers of genre painting. Having lived in Egypt for a number of years, they both appear to draw their themes by life over there. In the two works titled “Arab Musician” by Prosalentis, we basically have the case of a genre scene, the latter including not only the usage of a realistic language but also the engagement with ordinary everyday subjects. Furthermore, the artist here does not limit himself to the resemblance of facial features of the musicians but proceeds further to a clearly psychological interpretation of the figures. His work is distinguished for its drawing ability, the colour sensitivity, the freedom of the design and the flowing outlines. Periklis Tsirighotis belongs to the same group of genre painters and presents a truly exceptional work of art, the “Hartomantis” (Fortune-teller with cards). In it, the figures’ realistic characteristics, the suggestive atmosphere and the psychological portrayals of the character become dominant.
Another important artist with many of works in genre painting is Georgios Samargis. “Corfu at night”, “Breast feeding”, “After the Baths” and the “Piano Tuner” are some of the most important 20th century Corfiot paintings. What is impressive in all of the above paintings, is the well thought out compositions, the vivid colouration and the detailed depiction of daily life. The latter is often accompanied by anecdotal themes, which enrich the content of the works.
Markos Zavitsianos is also engaged with genre painting through etchings. He does so, by illustrating books mainly by Konstantinos Theotokis, whose main notions were, on the one hand, a realism with a clear dimension of social criticism and on the other, the will to provide a work which would address a wider audience. With copper as his preferred medium, he has the potential to document the conditions of ordinary people’s everyday life. This is accomplished both by the power of his design and his attention to detail.