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Home 09 March 2021
Culture Traditional forms of Art - Professions Wood sculpture Epirus Metsovo

Pulpit, Church of Aghios Demetrios at Frangades (1779)
(Photo: Triantaphyllos Sioulis)

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

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made of stone
Silver work
Wood sculpture
Hagiography - Painting
Wood sculpture: Subtopics All topics
Representative works
Wood sculpture of Metsovo
Wood sculpture of Gorgopotamos

Their organisation

Triantaphyllos Sioulis

© Prefecture of Ioannina
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They constituted groups or teams with few members, who were known as gangs or companies and were itinerant craftsmen. Their organization was different with the characteristics more akin to a family enterprise. They worked mainly in the area where the order was being commissioned, since the transportation of large works was from difficult to impossible. Accordingly, with any references to guilds or associations of wood sculptors, the reader must bear in mind that they had this type of organisation. Naturally there was a hierarchy with the master craftsman, his assistants and the apprentices.
The conditions for the development of the art of wood sculpture in Epirus were more favourable due to the abundant presence of the primary resource, the political and economical stability in the region, especially at the of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th century and the better living conditions. All of these factors were exceptionally favourable to the evolution and the development of the cottage industry art not only for personal use but also as a profession.
One of course needs to also refer to the continual population re-alignment, the infertility of the terrain and the continual movements, amongst which was also observed the abandonment of the agricultural and shepherding work and a development already from the 16th century of the various crafts that bear a relation to stone, wood and hagiography as well as the organisation of the people employed in these crafts, in groups or companies and guilds.
Miss Ms. Hatzimichalis has written in relation to the causes for the development of the various crafts in Epirus: «Furthermore, the fact that significant workshops for the various crafted goods gathered at Epirus is also due to the terrain of Epirus, which compelled the residents in the mountainous villages to be occupied with the craft and especially during the winter period. However, the renowned developed passion of the Epirots, also was a factor and especially amongst the Pindos residents, for the crafts and the decorative arts. The residents in fact of certain regions and villages of Epirus had acquired not only the proficiency but also the exclusivity in the construction of works in certain branches of popular art, to the degree where Epirus was elevated to a cottage industry area». North Greece, Western Macedonia and Epirus were converted into an endless cottage industry workshop.
The peak in various art forms as well as in wood sculpture, had reached its high point in the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century.
More specifically we note that in certain regions, as for example at Tzoumerka (Syrako, Kalarytes) and at Metsovo with the self government and the extraction of large favours, a huge cottage industry had developed, since the conditions for the development of the guilds were the most favourable.
All of these occurrences obviously apply in relation to the period from the 16th until mainly the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, since after this period the guilds began to fall into decline. However, this did not happen in relation to the teams – companies, which were their simplest form, the so called itinerant craftsmen, who travelled not only through Epirus but also through the whole of Greece, the Balkans, Asia Minor and elsewhere.
The residents of certain areas of Epirus were much sought after, who had acquired a specialisation in certain forms of art. We refer as an example to Chionades of the Konitsa region in iconography, to Tournovo and Metsovo in relation to the wood sculptors («tagiadoroi», instead of the proper taliadoros from (Latin) taliu = to cut and by extension sculpt into wood, who sculptured iconostases, pulpits, etc), to Pyrsogianne and Vourbiane in relation to the builders, the koudareoi, to Kalarytes in relation to the famous silver smiths and gold embroiders. In fact the Epirot craftsmen, because the conditions of their life compelled them to migrate, travelled through the rest of Greece, the Balkans and even to Europe, either to work as long as was required at one place, or to even settle down there. In this manner they also contributed to the spread of their art throughout Greece and the Balkans, if we are to judge them by the wood sculptured works that we encountered during our visits at Scotia to the churches of Aghios Demetrios at Monastery, of Aghios Climes and of Osiers Naomi at Acrid, etc.
Many of the works that were produced in either the houses or the workshops were sold not only in Greece but also abroad. In accordance with the testimony by Arabantinos, the works of various crafts were already being traded in from 1705.
The export of many products and their trade resulted in many craftsmen making their appearance. More specifically, during the 18th century in the more affluent regions, such as the villages of Konitsa, Kalarytes, Syrako, Metsovo and elsewhere, there appeared the most noteworthy workshops which established these regions as centres for the crafts.
Accordingly, we may state with certainty that Metsovo, Tournovo, Pogoniane, Pramanda, Chionades, and Moschopolis, were centres in wood sculpture from a very early time. This has also been confirmed by the fact that we have encountered wood sculptured works in these regions as early as the 16th century.
Sourlas has stated that: «The blossoming of this art was clearly due to the Epirot craftsmen from Metsovo and Tzoumerka, more specifically however from the Konitsa region and specifically from the village of Tournovo (Gorgopotamos) as well as Liskatsi (Asemochori), Vourbiane and Chionades».
Nevertheless the fact is impressive that there is no mention anywhere of a guild or an association of wood sculptors or taliadoroi at Ioannina. They were either not present or were not mentioned because they had already developed in regions around Ioannina and had not developed within the city! Possible! Nevertheless, it is a fact that the wood sculptors, as for example Giorgis Chrestos, were also occupied with all that was relevant to timber works, since they produced furniture, ceilings, etc. Maybe the same thing had also occurred at Ioannina, namely that there were carpenters who were also involved with wood sculpture, however with fewer possibilities.
Prior to the destruction of Ioannina and the rest of Epirus by Choursit Pasha in 1820, Salamangas has mentioned a lot in relation to the wood processing guilds at Ioannina, such as the Xylas, Kerestetzis, Sentoukas, Xylokopos, Tsekouras, Marangos, Davantzis, as well as the Skalistes guilds in 1802 – 1803. It is certainly possible that the sculptors had come to Ioannina from another region, since in another document that has been preserved (bearing document number 131 in the Archive of Stavros Ioannis); in a recorded list of professions, the wood sculptured or carving professions were absent. Furthermore, Papageorgios referred to a guild of sentoukades at Ioannina in 1812, which produced a variety of timber furniture and later developed into a guild of carpenters.
After the beginning of the 19th century, the main guilds began to degenerate, at least to the structure that they had until then and went into decline. Due to the development of trade with the West, as a consequence of steam ship transportation, many of the domestic crafts disappeared and went into decline.
However, this decline, which was mainly due to political and economic reasons, as for example the period of the rise and fall of Ali Pasha, had a lesser impact on wood sculpture. This was because the notables and the agas, which had never fallen upon financial ruin, wanted to be distinguished and for this reason they summoned the famous wood sculptors to decorate their seraglios and mansions. The construction and the restoration of churches and consequently the need for their decoration, has never ceased. An indicative fact of this period is that we have famous wood sculptured works. Especially since many of the wealthy as well as the various guilds paid for the commemoration of their names, resulting with them attaining commemoration and through it assuring their social status. A confirmation of all this is also the fact that there were many and famous teams of wood sculptors during the same period. When a political and an economic crisis was devastating a region, the following also occurred: the wood sculptors travelled to other regions in search of work, as for example with the Metsovo wood sculptors mainly in the 19th century, who travelled to liberated Greece or elsewhere in the Balkans, Europe and Asia, resulting in the transmission of their art.
The development of trade with the West had consequences on the wood sculpture sector that were not necessarily negative. These related mainly to the adoption of designs and subject matter.
Regarding the relations and the regulations for professional conduct with the other associated guilds, they were taken for granted.
In relation to whether the wood sculptors were organised into associations like the other guilds, Sourlas mentions that the wood sculptors in the Konitsa region and more specifically at Tournovo had been organised into a separate guild, like the hagiographers at Chionades. The profession was passed down from father to son and all the family members remained dedicated to the professional tradition. On many occasions they also took their surname from their work, as for example it had occurred with oldest family of the Skalistades from Tournovo. The wood sculptors who were known throughout the Greek speaking world as Skalistades or Taliadoroi, had been organised line the other guilds with a master craftsman, apprentices and assistants, because they were required to travel from place to place to practice their art.
Mr. Kitsos Makris writes accordingly, by adding: «In groups the gangs would start out at the beginning of spring and to finally return in autumn. The basic periodic markers were the festivals for the two cavalry saints, St. George in spring and St. Demetrios in autumn. The departure of the gangs was accompanied by small departure celebrations. The type of the pre-agreed work also determined the composition, in terms of speciality, for each gang. The building gangs were large in number, whilst the wood sculptors were smaller and the painters were down to five members. The general design and the supervision of the work belonged to the master craftsman. …. The professional incorporation of the builders and the wood sculptors followed the pan Hellenic model of the guild. The «koudareoi» (builders) at Pyrsogianne and Vourbiane and the ‘‘tagiadoroi’’ (wood sculptors) at Gorgopotamos, that was formerly known as Tournovo were organised in this manner».