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The Zacharias Portalakis Collections

at the Historical Museum of Crete

[Official Opening: Saturday 3rd October, 7:30pm]

The permanent collections at the Historical Museum of Crete have recently been enriched by a generous donation of sixty-five portable icons from the 15th to the early 20th century. This constitutes the entire personal collection of portable icons belonging to the well-known collector Zacharias Portalakis, who entrusted it to the Society of Cretan Historical Studies in May 2014.  That trust has now borne fruit in the form of a pioneering exhibition venture on show in the rooms on Museum Level 1.     


of the Zacharias Portalakis Collection

15th-20th century

The Zacharias Portalakis Donation

The core of the donation comprises a series of Cretan works illustrative of the course and development of the Cretan portable icon from the post-1453 era to the early 20th century. Alongside icons from Crete, the presence of others from the Ionian Islands is highly significant: as works modelled on the style and types disseminated by the Cretans, but created by Heptanese icon painters in their native land, they stand as clear evidence of our strong links with the islands where many Cretan painters found hospitable refuge after the Cretan War.

Works from the Cyclades and mainland Greece form part of the substantial set of religious artworks in the exhibition, offering visitors a rare opportunity to see them together in the same space as the portable icons from Crete and the Ionian Islands. An even rarer opportunity is afforded by the contribution of icons deriving from the Balkans and Russia, which broaden our knowledge of how the portable icon evolved in the wider Orthodox world. 

More specifically, the icons are presented by theme, articulated around three principal axes:

• Iconography: representations of the Virgin in post-Byzantine and Russian art, followed by prophets, saints with scenes from their lives and the feast days;

• Use: icons intended for public worship (despotic and architrave icons) and those intended for private worship (triptychs);

• Style: Cretan icons of the 15th and 16th century representative of the mastership of the Cretan School at its peak, as well as icons showing the subsequent dissemination of various iconographic types developed by the Cretan master painters but produced by non-Cretan workshops, confirming their widespread influence.

A rare signed work by Zacharias Kastrofylakas

The exhibition is enriched by a further highly significant work, specially loaned for the event from the private collection of Elia Portalaki, the donor's daughter. It is a signed work by Zacharias Kastrofylakas, known in Heraklion as the painter of two despotic icons in the Church of the Presentation (small Agios Minas). A small triptych, it is illustrative of the famed 18th century artist's mastery of miniature art, and is a rare example of such work by him.

Museography and curation

The exhibition of works in the donation was superbly curated by archaeologist and Byzantine art historian Chrysavgi Koutsikou, so as to highlight central aspects of six centuries of religious art and invite specialists and laymen alike to draw comparisons.

Museographic work on the exhibition, including reconstruction of the rooms housing the Zacharias Portalakis Donation, was undertaken by architects George Parmenides, Christine Longuépée and Ifigenia Mari. The resulting exhibition aims to exceed the high expectations of Museum visitors. In particular, the exhibition's architectural design provides for presentation of the icons as self-lit objects testifying to “uncreated light”, via a special lighting study carried out by Ms. Mina Mantzari of L4A Lighting for Architecture. One noteworthy detail is that the new TECNICA series of spotlights by iGUZZINI, specially designed and constructed for the exhibition at the Historical Museum of Crete, has now joined the Italian company's product range. Among those contributing to the final exhibition outcome, mention should also be made of restorer Michalis Krasagakis, who treated the icons prior to installation; the teams of technicians who spent months reconstructing the rooms; and the scientific, administrative and technical staff at the Historical Museum of Crete who took part in the project, co-ordinated by Alexis Kalokerinos with Museum curator and art historian Denise Chloe-Alevizou.



Divinity, (dis)continued

The Zacharias Portalakis Modern Art Collection

Temporary Exhibition

Collector Zacharias Portalakis' generous offer goes beyond his donation of portable icons. Henceforth, a series of temporary shows featuring works from his Modern Art Collection will accompany the permanent exhibition, in the adjacent room on Level 1 in the Historical Museum.

The first in the series, to be opened in tandem with the permanent exhibition, is entitled Divinity, (dis)continued. This showcases representative works from 1950 to 1990 by pioneering artists Konstantinos Parthenis, Yannis Tsarouchis, Christos Kapralos and Theodoros Stamos.

In particular, the exhibition is hosting Konstantinos Parthenis' monumental-sized Annunication-Poetry, a late work by the great master of Modern Greek art never before seen on Crete; Tsarouchis' David and The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, works from the dictatorship years, when he was living in Paris; works by the pioneering Abstract Expressionist Theodoros Stamos from his well-known Infinity Fields series; and Kapralos' sensational Pietá, a sculpture-study on the theme of Mother.


Special mention is due to the sponsors of both exhibitions, for assisting SCHS in these difficult times. We warmly thank Crete Regional Authority, AutoHellas HERTZ, Minoan Lines, Karatzis Α.Ε. and Karavias for their significant contribution.

Printed matter

The permanent exhibition is accompanied by a large format detailed bilingual catalogue and a bilingual leaflet on the signed work by Zacharias Kastrofylakas. The sumptuous photographs and texts by archaeologist and Byzantine art historian Chrysavgi Koutsikou, translated by Anastasia Lambropoulou, offer readers detailed, thorough analysis of all the works in the exhibition.

The bilingual leaflet offers a tour of the works in the Divinity, (dis)continued temporary exhibition, with texts by art historian and HMC curator Denise Chloe-Alevizou.

Graphic design

All exhibition publications owe their elegant appearance to the masterful design work of Dimitris Kalokyris, a long-standing associate of the Historical Museum of Crete, who also undertook all the graphic design involved in the exhibitions.


The SCHS has already planned a series of lectures to accompany the exhibitions, on topics relating both to the art of post-Byzantine era portable icons and the quests of the pioneering 20th century artists whose works make up the Divinity, (dis)continued exhibition.

Educational Programmes

For the 2015-2016 school year, two educational programmes specially designed for the two exhibitions will (as always) be offered free of charge:

• The 15th-20th Century Icons in the Zacharias Portalakis Collection: Meeting Byzantine Art is a programme aimed at 5th and 6th Grade Primary School pupils, as well as those in Year I of Junior High (Duration: 12th October 2015–6th June 2016). Starting out from the 15th-20th century icons in the Zacharias Portalakis Collection, and works from Crete, the Ionian Islands, the Cyclades and mainland Greece, as well as from the Balkans and Russia, pupils will be introduced to the main characteristics of post-Byzantine art. With a rich range of visuals and observation games specially designed for their age group, they will experiment with icon making techniques and learn about ecclesiastic art and the significance of church decoration programmes.

• The second programme has also been specially designed by the education team at the Historical Museum of Crete, and is entitled Aspects of post-Byzantine Art, and Aspects of Religiosity in Modern Art. It is aimed at pupils in Years II and III in Junior High and Year I in Senior High (Duration: 12th October 2015 – 6th June 2016). The programme aims to bring pupils into contact with the art of icon painting and its evolution over the long course of six hundred years (from the 15th to the 20th century), from the fall of Constantinople onwards. Pupils will take part in selected activities to familiarise themselves with post-Byzantine art, learning the differences between the icon painting tradition and Western art in the same centuries. They will visit the Divinity, (dis)continued temporary exhibition and meet the work of pioneering artists Konstantinos Parthenis, Yannis Tsarouchis, Christos Kapralos and Theodoros Stamos in the Zacharias Portalakis Modern Art Collection, participating in activities via which they will discover key concepts and aspects of modern art.

Guided Tours

The SCHS has planned guided tours of both exhibitions by curators at the Historical Museum of Crete. These will include and prioritise the most vulnerable groups in society, such as our fellow townsfolk being served by the A. & M. Kalokerinos Foundation Social Space, and residents at the Foundation Care Home.

Official Opening

The exhibitions will be officially opened by Stavros Arnaoutakis, Regional Governor of Crete, at 7:30pm on Saturday 3rd October 2015.

N.B. Both of the new exhibitions and all the collections at the Historical Museum of Crete will also be open to the public on Sunday 5th October (10:00am – 2:00pm).

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