Art in Corfu (17th-18th centuries)
Written by Dr. Athanasios ChristouThe 17th and the 18th centuries represent a quite creative period for art in Corfu. The period of peace following 1571, when the Ottoman troops were finally repelled, among other things, contributed to the development of the arts on the island. With Venetian rule being the decisive factor, the directions that prevailed were closer to Western art than to the Byzantine tradition. The tolerance shown by the Venetians towards the orthodox faith created the conditions for the construction and decoration of many churches with paintings during this period. It was exactly in the course of these two centuries that a gradual departure from the iconographic patterns of the Byzantine art and an adoption of aspects of Italian art, especially Venetian Renaissance and Baroque, took place. From the beginning of the 17th century important iconographic compositions were created, including those at the churches of Agios Spyridon, of the Pantocrator in the Campielo quarter, of Agios Athanasios in the village of Kato Korakiana and of Agios Vlassios in Kamara village. Heptanesian and Cretan artists, who had fled to Corfu following the fall of Crete to the Ottomans, produce an important body of work, both in quality and quantity. The Cretans, among them Mihail Damaskinos, Georgios Klontzas, Emmanuel Lombardos, Emmanuel Tzafournaris, Emmanuel Tzanes Bounialis and Theodoros Poulakis exercised an important influence on local artists. This resulted in the emergence, during the 18th century, of many well-known Corfiot artists who devoted themselves to the production of religious icons. The most important work of this period might well be the “ourania” by Panagiotis Doxaras in 1727 and decorating the ceiling of the church of Agios Spyridon, epitomizing every single new direction that would later prevail in Corfiot art. These will become clear a few years later with the themes depicted in the “ourania” in the “Panaghia ton Xenon” church, painted by Nikolaos Koutouzis, as well as in the “ourania” of Agios Eleftherios, by Spyridon Sperantzas. During the same period the breaking away of local artistic creation from Byzantine art and the integration of the Baroque style seem definitive. The majority of Corfiot painters of that period were students of Cretan painters who offered numerous icons in churches in the Ionian Islands. One of the most important and productive ones was Georgios Chrysoloras, of Constantinopolitan origin, who offered some of his most characteristic works to the Corfu municipal cemetery church. Other Corfiot artists, including Spyridon Sperantzas and Francescos Dimisianos, with a considerable body of work in both the town’s and countryside churches, are also worth mentioning here. In addition to the religious paintings, the 18th century was characterised by the accomplishments of Corfiot painters in other painting genres, most notably that of portraiture. Many works of this latter genre were created by unknown artists. These paintings are characterized by the adoption of the Western European painting styles and depict mainly clergymen and other prominent Corfiot figures. A general feature is the adoption of Baroque and Venetian painting styles, through the use of rich colours. Skilfully executed, they typify the direction of Corfiot secular painting in the more general context of the Ionian art, namely a predilection for and an emphasis on realistic depiction.