Erotokritos and Aretoussa titled in Greek on the upper part natural pigments on textile 65 x 58 cm.
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Athens.
EXHIBITED: Athens, British Council, Theofilos Exhibition, May 2-31 1947, no.9. Athens, Greek-American Union, Exhibition of Paintings by the Painter Theofilos, February 7-26, 1964, no.1.
LITERATURE: Nea Estia journal, no. 478, June 1, 1947, p. 692. Theofilos, Edition of the Commercial Bank of Greece, Athens 1967, no 92 (illustrated). The Greek Painters, vol. 1, From the 19th Century to the 20th, Melissa editions, Athens 1974, p. 448 (referred). O. Elytis, The Artist Theofilos, Ermeias editions, Athens 1978, pp. 55-56 (discussed), p. 65 (illustrated). F.E. Pezone, Theofilos, Lineamenti Bio-Biblio-Iconografici per una Monografia sul Pittore Popolare Greco, Edizioni dell' Istituto di Studi Atellani, 1984 (illustrated). Y. Zoras, Theofilos and Erotoctitos, Ombrela editions, Athens 1989, pp. 5-6 (discussed), p. 17 (illustrated). I. Alexopoulou-Kaliyanni, Modern Greek Painting-Sculpture-Literature, doctoral dissertation, Athens 1992, vol. A' p. 112,178 (referred), vol. B' fig. 1.24 (illustrated). M. Moschou, On Theofilos Hadjimichael's Biography, doctoral dissertation, Athens 2005, vol. 4, IV.27, p. 70 (referred). Y. Kaplani, Theofilos, Works by the Painter at the Museum of Greek Folk Art, Greek Ministry of Culture - Museum of Greek Folk Art, Athens 2010, fig. 18, p. 27 (illustrated).
According to Nobel laureate O. Elytis, lot 19 "is the best Erotocritos and Aretousa Theofilos ever painted, a miracle of nature that embraces the legendary couple, where the rose and blue pleated costumes so delightfully match the roses and foliage around them."1
Amidst a luxuriant, paganistic garden, where boldly coloured flowers, exuberant foliage and a majestic peacock are engaged in a Dionysian dance, Erotocritos has climbed a rope ladder to reach the balcony of his beloved Aretousa. He is portrayed, however, frontally with only his bent right leg indicating an upward movement. The young princess embraces him and leans in to kiss him stretching her wonderful long neck set against the cascading locks of her blond hair. The composition is further animated by a row of buildings in the background used as an indication of the structured space needed to set the stage for the meeting of the two lovers.
Written by Vintsentzos Kornaros around 1640, at a time when Crete laid across the lifelines of commerce and culture between Venice and Constantinople, Erotokritos is considered the masterpiece of Cretan poetry and a milestone in the history of Greek literature. The story of this heroic verse romance runs as follows: Erotocritos falls in love with the King's daughter Aretousa, whom he serenades night after night. Aretousa, enchanted by his beautiful songs falls in love too. After various secret meetings between the two lovers, Erotocritos asks the king for her hand in marriage. The king, infuriated by this request, exiles the young lover and casts Aretousa into a dark dungeon. Later, when the city is about to fall to invaders, Erotokritos arrives in time to save the day. As a reward he asks for the hand of Aretousa, which is gratefully granted, and the two lovers reign happily ever after over the kingdom of Athens. Setting great store by true love, courage and patriotism, the poem enjoyed immense popularity among Greeks, who learned it from refugees after the fall of Crete in 1669. The romance became a national poem and its hero a symbol of suffering Hellenism, exalted side by side with Digenis Akritas and Alexander the Great.2
The lovers' meeting on the balcony, as depicted in Theofilos's painting, has no exact counterpart in the poem, which recounts their conversation through a double barred window.3 As noted by theatre expert K. Nitsos, "the meeting is obviously related to the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. This seems to support the conjecture that Theofilos was inspired by the performance of a travelling theatre company. It can also be inferred by the theatricality of the Renaissance costumes and the balcony's architecture, even the curtain-like drapery at the balcony's entrance."4
Though Erotocritos is represented in a Renaissance outfit and the scene does not correspond exactly to the poem, Theofilos's painting is imbued by a profoundly Greek atmosphere. The buildings in the background seem perched on a hill, resembling the mansions of the Mt. Pelion villages, while the same Greek spirit is evident in the depiction of the foreign garb. As noted by K. Nitsos, "Theofilos's self-assured and courageous Aretousa, the gaze, the luxurious moustache and the facial traits of his Erotocritos, which make him look no different than the other braves he painted, endow the scene with an air of folk gallantry and honesty, poignantly capturing -even reviving- the Greek spirit and the Greek ethos of the Cretan Renaissance. Note the fascinating pictorial, even theatrical interplay of stripped and monochromatic fabrics and the different shades of blue generated by the alternating pleats and foldings. Amidst ochres and reds, this radiant blue echoes the magnificent Byzantine harmonies that blend with both western influences and traditional sources without seeming to clash or being out of place."5 Erotocritos has struck deep roots in the Greek soul and not surprisingly Theofilos's legendary wooden chest contained a popular edition of this celebrated narrative poem.6
1. O. Elytis, The Artist Theofilos [in Greek], Ermeias editions, Athens 1978, pp. 55-56. 2. See V. Kornaros, Erotocritos, Papazissis Publishers, Athens 1984, pp. 19-22. 3. "bars blocked the window all along", V. Kornaros, Erotocritos, Canto III, ver. 395-396. 4. K. Nitsos, "A Short Note on Theofilos" [in Greek], Theatro magazine, no.4, July-August 1962, p. 7. 5. Nitsos, "A Short Note on Theofilos", p. 7. See also I. Alexopoulou-Kaliyanni, Modern Greek Painting-Sculpture-Literature, doctoral dissertation, Athens 1992, vol. A' p. 115. 6. G. Seferis, Dokimes (Treatises) [in Greek], Fexis editions, Athens 1962, p. 58.
Please note that due to Greek Regulation, this lot cannot be exported from Greece and will be available for viewing and inspection in Athens, either by appointment or during the Athens Preview, 13-15 November. This painting will be located in Athens during the auction.