Specialist, Head of Sale, Greek Sales
The Greek Sale / Constantinos Parthenis (Greek, 1878-1967) Vierge à l'Enfant (oil on canvas)
€150,000 - €200,000
The artist's estate, Athens.
Nikos Parthenis the artist's son collection, Athens and by inheritance to the present owner.
Venice, XXI Esposizione Biennale Internationale d'Arte, Padiglione della Grecia, Constantin Parthenis, Michele Tombros, Angelos Theodoropoulos, June 1 - September 30, 1938.
A mesmerizing work of dazzling virtuosity and timeless elegance, Mother and Child lies at the very core of Parthenis's achievement. Ethereal, idealized and weightless, the two sacred figures, captured in translucent colours and feathery forms, occupy a purified world of universal peace and divine harmony, conveying an uplifting feel and provoking the viewer's emotional and spiritual participation. With its subtle colour harmonies, delicate flow of segmented line, deeply poetic atmosphere, and audacious sense of newness, Mother and Child, reflects the vision of a great European artist laden with age-old memories who was entranced by the optimism and boldness of the twentieth century.
Painted in the classic type of the Hodegetria, the Virgin is shown waist-length, turning to the left and inclining her head, while holding the Christ Child in her left arm and raising her right in a gesture of prayer, pointing to him as the Saviour of humanity. Her elegant body leads to a powerful neck and a noble face with finely drawn features. Resting in the crook of his mother's arm, Christ turns towards her, stretching out his right hand to caress her face.1
The two-figure group is framed by a cluster of immaterial cube-like dwellings on the right that allude to the hortus conclusus, the walled garden which stands for Mary's undisturbed chastity—a type frequently found in early Renaissance religious pictures—and a rocky outcrop on the left whose origins hark back to iconographic conventions of Virgin Mary in Byzantine representations of Nativity. In most Greek Orthodox depictions she is shown recumbent in mountainous terrain outside the nativity cave symbolising her virginity since, according to Orthodox Church hymnography (Akathistos Hymn), she is the 'untouched, unhewn mountain', a convention unknown in Western art.2 Here, this schematized rocky formation is embellished with small green leaves, echoing the myrtle branches adorning Parthenis's monumental Virgin of the Myrtle Tree in the Church of St Alexandros in Paleo Faliro.
Abbreviated, dematerialised shapes translated into evocative symbols, fine lines and curvilinear motifs which echo the simplicity of ancient Greek vase painting, translucent forms and sensitive, diluted colours applied on the reverse side of the canvas to better capture the spiritual immaterialisation of the so called acheiropoiitos Byzantine icons,3 create a magical dreamscape of pure poetry, a vision that can dissolve at any moment, a transient melody that can fade away before registering on our consciousness.4 The whole picture is lit by grace, celebrating the two sacred images as lofty symbols of universal order, harmony and peace.
Inspired by indigenous sources and cultural experiences while drawing from European symbolism, Art Nouveau, the Jugendstil and Cubism, Parthenis's Mother and Child demonstrates an ingenious fusion of traditional subject matter with liberal artistic trends and modernist formal principles, adhering to an entirely Greek canon based on the boldness of the artist's personal style and subjective interpretation. As noted by Athens National Gallery Director D. Papastamos, "Parthenis fully utilised the Greek aesthetic tradition starting out from where El Greco left off."5
1 For descriptions of the Hodegetria type in Byzantine icon painting, see Mother of God, Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art, exhibition catalogue, Benaki Museum - Skira editions, Athens-Milan 2000.
2 See K. Kalokyris, The Painting of Orthodoxy. Historical, Aesthetic and Doctrinal Interpretation of Byzantine Painting, Pournara editions, Thessaloniki 1972, p. 145.
3 Holy paintings thought to have been created without the intervention of human hand.
4 See S. Lydakis, "The Stylistic Evolution of Constantinos Parthenis" [in Greek], Zygos magazine, no. 50, November-December 1981, p. 21.
5 D. Papastamos, Painting 1930-1940, Astir Insurance edition, Athens 1981, pp. 14-15.