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Original - Replica

This exhibition revolves around the coexistence of original Byzantine painting with replicas which, in spanning time, are linked to major names in contemporary Greek art.

The Historical Museum of Crete collections include 26 replicas of Late Byzantine wall paintings. The replicas were made in tempera on wood and canvas. The collection was  assembled by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies (SCHS) from 1956-1961, with the aim of preserving wall paintings that were disintegrating in seven Cretan churches by making copies of them. It was also the Society’s intention to create a permanent collection of wall painting replicas in the ducal church of St. Mark in Heraklion, which had been fully restored on the society’s own initiative and planning.

The work was carried out in two stages. In 1956 the SCHS commissioned Photis Zachariou, a Ministry of Culture artist and conservationist, to make replicas of wall paintings from two churches in Chania prefecture, which then went on display in the Historical Museum of Crete. SCHS then proceeded to copy 24 further wall paintings from five churches in eastern Crete. The replicas were made in 1961 by students at the Athens School of Fine Arts, on the recommendation of Yannis Moralis, artist and professor at the School.

Responsibility for organizing the students’ visit to Crete was assumed by Manolis Chatzidakis, Byzantinist and Director of the Benaki Museum, while artist Thomas Fanourakis undertook to supervise matters on the island. It is not known whether all of the artists mentioned in Y. Moralis’ letter came to Crete, since only one of the names mentioned (Sotiris Sorongas) is recorded on paper, on the back of one of the replicas. What we do know is that other artists also worked on the project (Dimosthenis Kokkinidis, Yannis Haïnis, Yannis Papanelopoulos, Jenny Papadaki) - students at the School of Fine Arts whose names are also recorded on the back of some replicas.

On 22 September 1961, at the official inauguration of the restored Basilica of St. Mark and the opening of proceedings at the First International Cretan Studies Congress organized by the SCHS, the church walls were adorned with the replicas, including those by Photis Zachariou. When the congress ended it was decided by special statute that the church should serve as a permanent exhibition of Cretan wall painting replicas. In the 1990s the church was converted into the Municipal Art Gallery and the replicas were moved to the Historical Museum of Crete, where they are kept.

The original portable icons on display here together with a number of the replicas date to Post-Byzantine times (mid-15th – 19th century). Two of them are on long-term loan from the public art trust and the rest belong to the SCHS. All of them were painted on wooden surfaces of varying dimensions, depending on their intended use – whether for hanging in churches and monasteries (the Great Hierarch), or for placing in private places of worship (the triptych). With the exception of one icon from Central Greece, they come from various places on Crete, and express contemporary artistic and aesthetic understanding. They follow established conventions in icon painting, assimilating new features in a creative manner.