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Culture Traditional forms of Art - Professions Wood sculpture Epirus Gorgopotamos

The Sorrowful, Monastery for Aghios Ioannis o Prodromos at Krya (1760)
(Photo: Triantaphyllos Sioulis)

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Geographic map of Ioannina Prefecture with the works of the Metsovo and Tournovo wood sculptors
Geographic map of Ioannina Prefecture with the works of the Metsovo and Tournovo wood sculptors

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Wood sculpture of Metsovo
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23/03/2007
The development of trade in relation to the influence on their art

Triantaphyllos Sioulis

© Prefecture of Ioannina
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With the passage of time and the movement of populations, as well as the development of trade, the cultural exchanges also became inevitable, especially with the West, without however losing the local traditional flavour.
Furthermore, the contacts with the West have been many and pronounced at Epirus for a very long time, as long as one considers that, «...IOANNINA HAD FOR ALMOST THREE CENTURIES (1500 - 1789) INTENSE COMMERCIAL TRANSACTIONS, AS WELL AS ALL MANNER OF EXCHANGES», as it also occurred more generally with West Greece.
More specifically, in relation to the wood sculptors we have observed that they travelled everywhere and to the West, from where they have accepted most influences since mainly the middle of the 18th century onwards. The artistic exchanges that have existed with the West is apparent through events such as the production of the iconostasis for the Greek Church at Livorno in 1820 by Metsovo wood sculptors, the adoption of designs that originated from there, as we have observed with the Metsovo wood sculptor Ioannis Paskoulis, who was asked to create an iconostasis in accordance with the Vienna design and even for the ordering of their tools from there.
In relation to the church of Aghia Kyriake at Zagora and the iconostasis that was created in 1740-1742, «...IN 1762 THEY ORDER THE EXTERNAL DOORS...IOANNIS PRINGOS ASSUMED THE RESPONSIBILITY AND THE EXPENSE IN HIS SUCCESSIVE LETTERS TO NIKOLAOS REIZIS...HE WROTE ‘‘...I HAVE WRITTEN TO VIENNA FOR THOSE DOORS AND I AM WAITING A RESPONSE BECAUSE HERE (I.E. AT AMSTERDAM) THEY NEITHER HAVE NOR KNOWN OF THESE THINGS; THEY ONLY HAVE THE TEACHING AND NO VENERATION FOR THE SACRED RELICS OF BECAUSE THE CHURCHES OF THE LUTHERANS AND CALVINISTS ARE LIKE MOSQUES 4 WHITE WASHED WALLS; THE CHURCH, 15/9/1762. ‘‘IN RELATION TO THE SACRED DOORS THEY HAVE NOT YET BEEN MADE; THE PEOPLE I WAS REFERRED TO HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF THESE MATTERS. I RECEIVED A RESPONSE FROM VIENNA THAT EVEN THERE THEY ARE UNAWARE AND REFERRED ME TO RUSSIA; AND I AM WAITING TO FIND SOMEONE GOING THENCE, TO COMMISSION THE WORK’’. THREE YEARS LATER AND THE DOORS HAD NOT YET BEEN CONSTRUCTED: ‘‘I AM UNAWARE, IN RELATION TO THE DOORS, WHETHER YOU HAVE RECEIVED THEM FROM MR. DEMETRIS PHRONIMOS IN CONSTANTINOPLE, TO WHOM I HAD WRITTEN; AND WRITE TO HIM ON MY BEHALF THROUGH THE INTERCESSION OF THIS HONOURABLE FATHER TO SEND THEM TO ME, BECAUSE HERE WHERE I AM THEY ARE UNAWARE OF SUCH MATTERS, 1/6/1765. THE DOORS FOR THE ICONOSTASIS ARE SIMILAR THE REMAINDER. IT ACCORDINGLY APPEARS THAT THEY WERE FINALLY PRODUCED BY THE SAME CRAFTSMEN OR BY OTHERS THAT HAD IMITATED THEIR WORK. THE CREDIBLE INFORMATION BY PRINGOS THAT THEY DON’T KNOW HOW TO SCULPTURE ICONOSTASES IN VIENNA IS CONTRARY TO OTHER INFORMATION THAT VIENNA NOT ONLY PRODUCED SECTIONS BUT ALSO COMPLETE ICONOSTASES, SUCH AS THE ICONOSTASIS FOR THE VIRGIN MARY AT TSARITSANE, A WORTHY WITH NOTEWORTHY CRAFTSMANSHIP BUT COLD. THE PHRASE ‘‘IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE VIENNA DESIGN, WHICH APPEARS IN A CONTRACT OF THE METSOVITE GIANNIS PASKOULIS IS OBVIOUSLY REFERRING TO THE BAROQUE STYLE».
Even in relation to the influences, it is known that Basilis Skalistes, one of the most renowned wood sculptors, had perfected his art at Florence in Italy over two years.
At Eptanesa there is reference to the existence of Italian taliadoroi during the 18th century, «BEYOND THE FACT THAT THEY HAD IMPORTED INTO THE ZAGORIA VILLAGES ICONOSTASES OR THEIR SECTIONS FROM WORKSHOPS IN VIENNA... THE SAME CHARM WAS ALSO EXERCISED BY THE WOOD SCULPTURES FROM RUSSIA AND THE REGIONS ON THE DANUBE... IN THE 18TH AND THE 19TH CENTURY AMONGST POPULAR WOOD SCULPTURE WAS ALSO APPARENT THE INFLUENCE FROM ART IN THE RUMANIAN REGIONS OF MARAMURES AND SIBIU, WHERE ENTIRE VILLAGES, HOUSES, FURNITURE, OBJECTS FOR DECORATION AND FOR DAILY USE, EVEN THE FUNERARY STYLES WERE PRODUCED ENTIRELY FROM TIMBER ».
We must however note that these phenomena are so rare – even in relation to the Zagoria villages the author has not referred to a specific work and he has not stated his source – that it was not possible for them to drastically transform and dominate the Epirot wood sculpture art and to change its style. Furthermore, the existence of so many and renowned taliadoroi, as well as their journeys, have already also demonstrated from a very early time the range of the Epirot art, into the Balkans and elsewhere. The existence of foreign taliadoroi was simultaneously rendered superfluous. Where there now exist some examples of wood sculptured objects, where it can be demonstrated that they have been brought from other regions, this only happened in rare situations. In our opinion this was due to the fact that some of the wealthy or the guilds of locals who had lived in the said foreign regions, had as a love for their homeland or even out of a desire for posthumous reputation and for a display, entered into these types of activities. Something comparable occurred for example, as it has been preserved in the oral tradition with the iconostasis at the church of the Prophet Elias at Plaision in Thesprotia as well as elsewhere.
All of these have demonstrated the contacts that the wood sculptors with the West and the East, as well as the influences that they had naturally accepted from there. However, as we shall see in the subsequent chapters, the elements that they received were adapted masterfully with the traditional Byzantine subjects, thus binding them into a Hellenic style ensemble and simultaneously creating a new tradition in this sector.
«AND ACCORDINGLY THE HAVE PRESENTED PREHISTORIC SUBJECTS THAT HAVE BEEN INTEGRATED WITH THE BYZANTINE AND THE LATTER MERGED WITH FIGURES FROM THE EAST, VENICE OR TURKEY. ACCORDINGLY, THE CREATOR WHILST ACCEPTING THE FOREIGN INFLUENCE, HE UNCONSCIOUSLY REPEATED THE TRADITIONAL SUBJECTS. CERTAINLY WE ARE ABLE TO DISTINGUISH THE SUBJECTS ALONG THEIR GENERAL LINES, LIKE THOSE THAT RETAIN THE OLD INDIGENOUS STYLE AND THAT HAD BEEN GENERALLY SUBJECTED TO INFLUENCES. HOWEVER IT IS NATURALLY MORE DIFFICULT TO MONITOR EVERY INFLUENCE AND THEIR DEVELOPMENT, EVEN WHERE IT HAS BEEN PRECEDED BY A SYSTEMATIC LOCAL INVESTIGATION AND RESEARCH».
In relation to the fact that many of the iconostases in the Greek churches have exhibited many similarities between them, we believe that these are mainly due to the fact that the residents in those regions were asking the same renowned wood sculptors to create the wood sculptured decorative for their churches. They naturally created the works on the basis of the same designs. Again on other occasions the church curates had as a model the wood sculpture at some churches that had cone to their attention and in accordance with that they also wanted the wood sculptures created at their own churches, as we have verified from many agreements. On a parallel there certainly were not also absent the entirely original and unique works, however these were the exceptions.
The changes in the structure, the execution technique and the subject matter came slowly and it was probably for that reason that the flavour in the traditional art of wood sculpture did not change dramatically. Namely there was that necessary period for the adaptation in stages of the adopted innovations to the local flavour and finally for their assimilation by it.
Nevertheless, in relation to the influences at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, we have observed that there «was imposed» in some manner a change in course. «THE FREE GREEK STATE SCORNED THE DEMOTIC LANGUAGE AND ITS ‘BARBAROUS’ ART TRADITION. THE KATHAREVOUSA LANGUAGE, ROMANTICISM FROM THE MUNICH SCHOOL, NEO CLASSICISM IN THE ARCHITECTURE DISPLACED THE NATIONAL POPULAR CULTURE. CERTAINLY, FOREIGN ELEMENTS HAD ALSO BEEN IMPORTED IN THE PAST, HOWEVER THEY TRANSPLANTED FRUITFULLY ONTO THE STRONG TRUNK OF THIS CIVILIZATION. NOW HOWEVER THAT ITS ROOTS WERE CUT, THE WHOLE TRUNK WITHERED. THE HEREDITARY TECHNIQUE WAS ABANDONED. EASE LED TO TEMPORARY SOLUTIONS. COLD SYMMETRY, PURSUIT OF BEAUTY AND CALLIGRAPHY, ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ICONOSTASES IN THIS PERIOD». We have verified this fact with many wood sculptured objects at churches of Epirus in this period.
Unfortunately this attitude continued and it appeared to have dominated in many forms of art. In relation to this matter and what needed to be done, it is worth quoting a few words from an article by Mr. Panaghiotis Michelis, which are also perfectly suited to the wood sculpture art: «...THE IMITATION OF THE INDIGENOUS FORMS POPULAR OF ART...WOULD HAVE BEEN THE ACHIEVEMENT OF A SO-CALLED ARTLESS TRADITION. ACCORDINGLY FROM TRADITION, WE CAN ONLY RESTORE THE VALUES, METRE, SIMPLICITY, GRACE AND SO MANY OTHER BY REFORMING OUR ART INTERNALLY AND NOT EXTERNALLY», as it had precisely occurred for centuries now by passing smoothly from period to period.