June 19, 2011


Filippos Margaritis, General Christodoulos Hadjipetros, c.1855

Portrait photography from mid-19th century Greece is characterised by  an apparent chaos of dress codes and attitudes. At the pinnacle of society, King Otto and Queen Amalia both instituted a policy of cultural cross-dressing, actively encouraging the wearing of Greek national dress at court. A very early group photograph of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting includes the wives and daughters of Greek notables wearing the authentic local costumes of Psara, Spetses, Hydra and Epirus, as well as two German ladies in European court dress. The seated older woman and the young girl to her left are both wearing examples of an outfit designed for the Queen; based on the dress of Nafpaktos, it became known as the “Amalia” and was a favourite of fashionable ladies for as number of decades, eventually acquiring the status of authentic folk dress.

Unsurprisingly, the war of independence remained the defining event in the lives of those who lived through it. As such, it strongly affected how the participants (or would-be participants), saw themselves, and the kind of image they wanted to project. We can see this in the relatively large number of portraits from the 1850s and 1860s in which the more politically and socially successful of the war leaders are photographed in variants of the traditional Greek warrior’s costume, including the foustanella or pleated white kilt; they include the undisputed masterpiece of early Greek portraiture, Filipos Margaritis’ bravura depiction of General Christodopulos Hadjipetros. These are, of course, highly formalised versions of what the average klepht would have worn in the 1820s, to which they bear the same relationship as do the kilts and sporrans in Raeburn’s paintings to the plaids worn at Culloden; nevertheless, what such portraits testify to is the fact that these men, once powerful wartime leaders, were now equally influential members of the new order of things.

Inevitably, younger men, or men who perhaps had not fought at all, adopted the same style of self-representation, wearing the foustanella as a mark of national allegiance, or else because it had become, following the example of king Otto, the fashionable thing to be seen and photographed in; just as inevitably, the style did not necessarily flatter the more sedentary individuals. Finally, by the 1870s, what had been a visual signifier of courage and devotion to a national ideal was acquiring overtones of cliché, even of mockery.

Filippos Margaritis, Athenian Family Group, 1855-60
The future of Greece, it was becoming clear to all forward-looking men, lay with Western Europe, and the ruling class conformed within a single generation. We can see the process at work in a wonderfully evocative family group by Margaritis, which shows the grizzled paterfamilias in full evzone regalia, including decorations, and ranged behind him his three sons. They are not merely wearing western dress, but three distinct variants of it: on the left, a clean-shaven bohemian lounger in checked pants, three fingers thrust provocatively in his trouser pocket; in the middle, the full-bearded son in sober, buttoned-up black who is clearly destined for the role of hardworking family provider; and on the right, the highly unreliable-looking boulevardier, complete with waxed moustache and cane. Add to the mixture a formidable battle-axe of a wife and a clearly discontented daughter, and you have the cast of a peculiarly cynical play by Moliére.
Both prints are in the collection of the National Gallery, Athens.

June 14, 2011


Patrick Leigh Fermor, ‘Paddy’ to his many friends as well as to the numerous readers for whom he became an admired and much-loved figure, died on June 10th at the age of 96. He had fallen gravely ill in Greece towards the middle of May; when the end became inevitable, he asked to be flown back to England, arriving with less than a day in hand.

Paddy was loved as much for himself as for his writing, not only in England and Greece, his adopted second country, but seemingly also everywhere in the world his books had penetrated. It is almost impossible to think of an equivalent public figure of whom it could be said that throughout a long life lived at high physical and intellectual intensity, he showed true malice towards none, encountering little if any in return.

This delightful sketch of himself in Cretan dress was penned at the top of a letter to my mother dated 17th November, 1944; as he explains, "I have been lost again in a forest of whiskers for about three weeks, and my old mountain chums are down in the plains now, looking incredibly wild and shaggy". Ελαφρύ το χώμα που τον σκέπασε.