Allegory: Wounded Greece rescued by A. Korais and R. Feraios signed in Greek and dated '1911' (lower right), inscribed in greek (at the lower part) oil on cardboard 64.5 x 44.5 cm. (25 3/8 x 17 1/2 in.)
Provenance: Alexander Xydis collection, Athens
Exhibited: Athens, Greek American Association, Works by the artist Theofilos, February 1964, (illustrated in the catalogue, no 31)
Literature: Alexander Xydis, Proposals for the History of Modern Greek Art, colume A, Athens 1976, p. 41 (illustrated) Georgios Petris, The painter Theofilos, Exandas 1978, p. 49 (reference)
A work of national significance and exceptional artistic merit, this allegorical composition belongs to one of the most creative and prolific periods in Theofilos career during which he completed his famed wall paintings in Anakasia, Mt. Pelion (1910-1912), as well as a number of exquisite canvases. This painting brings together diverse elements that are, nevertheless, highly consistent with the idea of Greece, as perceived by Theofilos: classical sculpture, ancient ruins, Rhigas Feraios and Adamandios Korais who come to rescue enslaved Greece and restore her former glory, a phoenix reborn from the ashes, names of ancient poets, excerpts from patriotic texts. An imaginative composition demonstrating how the artist ignored the constraints of time and space when they impeded his creative zeal, the same way he didnt hesitate to abolish the rules of perspective.1
Like many other great masters from the past, Theofilos was by no means reluctant to draw his iconography from earlier works by other artists, lithographs, postcards or book illustrations, source material he nonetheless ingenuously reworked or even altered to fit his vision. As noted by the art critic A. Xydis, whose collection includes this painting, the transformation of academic prints into true masterpieces is ample proof of Theofilos wisdom. In most of his works, and especially the earlier ones, he never succumbed to the conventionality of his original sources nor yielded to natural curiosity about the various styles used by his contemporaries; as a result, he never fell victim to rigid academism. The fact that, though without any guidance or formal training, he managed to single-handedly rediscover the hidden clue of old Greek painting, testifies to the power of his art. His roots go way back to the ancient Aegean and it is this heritage that makes him paint in a distinctly Greek manner, much like his distant colleagues from Faiyum, Pompeii and Byzantium.2
In this rare piece, the only known portable painting on the subject, Theofilos shows a predilection for history, exploring a world of bravery and heroic achievement that was out of his reach, before turning with nostalgia to more familiar and accessible subjects, such as landscapes and genre scenes.3 Here, he pays homage to two great figures of modern Greece, Adamandios Korais (1748-1833), the leading philosopher of the 1821 war of independence who envisioned a Greek nation of the future and called upon his countrymen to revive the glories of classical Greece, and Rhigas Feraios (Velestinlis) (1757-1798), an early leader and victim of the cause who combined the teachings of Enlightenment with revolutionary action. Theofilos did not place Rhigas next to ancient Greek ruins without reason, since in 1797 the latter had published Greeces Magna Carta, aimed at representing modern Hellenism as an extension of the classical and Byzantine eras.
Rhigas captured the attention and imagination of the Western world, at a time enthralled by romanticism and new ideas on liberty and nationality. The introduction of Comte de Choiseul-Gouffiers Voyage Pittoresque de la Grèce (1782-1812), illustrated with an image of Greece seated among the ruined tombs of Pericles, Themistocles and other Greek heroes, reads: Let it be said clearly, there still exist in this country men ready to revive the memories of their ancestors. The significance of Rhigas martyrdom for the Greek cause - he was captured and killed by the Turks in 1798- was perceptively predicted by Korais himself: This spilling of innocent blood instead of discouraging the Greeks shall most probably incite them to vengeance.
Ingeniously combining such a keen sense of the historical past with instinctive knowledge, compositional discipline and freedom of colour choices, Theofilos became a point of reference for the leading Greek intellectuals of the 20th century. Nobel laureates G. Seferis and O. Elytis consider him an uncorrupted great artist who gave expression to the true face of Greece and made us see the world with a different eye.4 The inclusion of text at the lower part of this outstanding painting, in addition to expressing a longing for knowledge during the Ottoman occupation, denotes a unification of iconographic and linguistic symbols in a uniform and living Greek myth.5
1. K. Makris, The Painter Theofilos in Mt. Pelion [in Greek], Volos, 1939, p. 25 2. A. Xydis, Proposals for the History of Modern Greek Art [in Greek], vol. 1, Athens 1976, p. 36-38. See also G. Petris, The Painter Theofilos [in Greek], Athens 1978, p. 49 and E. Papazachariou, The Other Theofilos [in Greek], Athens 1997, p. 93 3. See K. Makris, The Relevance of Theofilos, Zygos Annual Edition on the Hellenic Fine Arts, vol. 3, Athens 1984, p. 98 4. O. Elytis, The New Greek Myth [in Greek], Athens 1973 and G. Seferis, Angloelliniki Epitheorisi, vol. 3, no. 1, May 1947, p. 2 5. H. Kambouridis - G. Levounis, Modern Greek Art, The 20th Century, Athens 1999, p. 4