Athens mu­seum sheds light on two 19th-cen­tury lovers of an­tiq­uity

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY IOTA SYKKA

Kyr­i­akos Pit­takis and Louis Fau­vel shared the same pas­sion for the an­cient world: While the for­mer be­came a pi­o­neer of Greek ar­chae­ol­ogy, the lat­ter was a French vice con­sul and, above all, a col­lec­tor. While Pit­takis made painstak­ing sac­ri­fices in or­der to record and safe­guard Greece’s an­cient her­itage, Fau­vel ac­quired his fa­vorite an­cient pieces through a string of illegal ac­tiv­i­ties.

Al­most 200 years have gone by since the days when the two men would ex­change thoughts on Athe­nian an­tiq­ui­ties, although their ap­proach in terms of whose prop­erty they were dif­fered enor­mously: The French­man supplied Euro­pean mu­se­ums with an­cient pieces, while the Greek helped es­tab­lish the first state col­lec­tions and mu­se­ums in Athens – Pit­takis es­sen­tially laid the foun­da­tions for the de­vel­op­ment of the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum.

The two men meet again in a Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled “Dream Among Splen­did Ru­ins: Strolling through the Athens of Trav­el­ers, 17th-19th Cen­tury,” which runs through Oc­to­ber 2016. The dis­play presents the two men’s par­al­lel, yet very dif­fer­ent, sto­ries. A litho­graph by artist Louis Dupre per­fectly re­flects Fau­vel’s ar­ro­gance as he poses along­side the Greek an­tiq­ui­ties he kept at home. Among them is the torso of a sculp­ture of an an­cient Greek soldier. That same torso is now a part of the ex­hi­bi­tion, spark­ing strong emo­tion, just like Pit­takis’s hand­writ­ten in­ven­tory de­tail­ing an­tiq­ui­ties kept at the Tem­ple of Hephaes­tus in Thi­seio, at the Propy­laea of the Acrop­o­lis and Hadrian’s Li­brary in 1843.

Also on dis­play at the mu­seum, the coun­try’s old­est, are sev­eral an­tiq­ui­ties res­cued by Pit­takis.

“Back in the days of the self-taught Greek ar­chae­ol­o­gist, these an­tiq­ui­ties were on dis­play in the Tem­ple of Hephaes­tus, but by the end of the 19th cen­tury they had been trans­ferred to the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum, when the build­ing was com­pleted,” noted the mu­seum’s di­rec­tor Maria La­gogianni.

Ac­cord­ing to La­gogianni, at the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury and up un­til the be­gin­ning of the Greek War of In­de­pen­dence, all trav­el­ers reach­ing Athens would end up vis­it­ing the res­i­dence of Vice Con­sul Louis-Fran­coisSe­bas­tian Fau­vel (1753-1838), ini­tially near the Ro­man Agora and later on at the An­cient Agora.

“Af­ter 1780, Fau­vel trav­eled ex­ten­sively through Greece and around Athens as the en­voy of Au­guste de Choiseul-Gouffier, French am­bas­sador to the Ot­toman Em­pire, in or­der to col­lect and record an­tiq­ui­ties on his be­half and help him sup­ply royal courts and an­tiq­uity-lov­ing Euro­peans with ex­cep­tional an­cient pieces,” said La­gogianni.

Fol­low­ing his ap­point­ment as vice con­sul, Fau­vel took up per­ma­nent res­i­dence in Athens in 1803. He now had plenty of time, ac­cord­ing to La­gogianni, “to carry out illegal oper­a­tions in­volv­ing an­tiq­ui­ties across At­tica as well as use his rich knowl­edge of the city’s to­pog­ra­phy and an­cient sites to guide and in­form any­one who was in­ter­ested.”

Be­sides act­ing as a con­sulate, Fau­vel’s home be­came the city’s first pri­vate mu­seum, fea­tur­ing sculp­tures, fig­urines, coins, vases and mon­u­ment casts along with a de­tailed to­po­graphic map of Athens. When the War of In­de­pen­dence broke out in Athens, a bomb ex­plo­sion caused ex­ten­sive dam­age to the vice con­sul-col­lec­tor’s home.

“The pro-Turk­ish po­lit­i­cal stance adopted by the French Con­sulate forced Fau­vel to leave the city in 1822. Ini­tially he moved to Syros and then to Smyrna. From there, he asked for his col­lec­tion of an­tiq­ui­ties to be for­warded to him – he had al­ready taken care of the pack­ag­ing – but Athens gar­ri­son com­man­der Ioan­nis Gouras and other city of­fi­cials re­fused to do so. In 1825, dur­ing the sec­ond siege of the Acrop­o­lis, his house was com­pletely de­stroyed and all the boxes con­tain­ing the an­cient pieces were crushed un­der the rub­ble,” noted La­gogianni. A num­ber of those an­tiq­ui­ties were re­cov­ered dur­ing ex­ca­va­tion work in the area of the An­cient Agora in 1935.

Pit­takis (1798-1863) was equally pas­sion­ate about an­tiq­ui­ties. He trained next to Fau­vel in an ef­fort to learn more about his coun­try’s an­cient mon­u­ments and soon be­came a lead­ing ad­vo­cate in the strug­gle to pro­tect them.

“They say it was his idea to give bul­lets to the be­sieged Turks in­side the Acrop­o­lis so they wouldn’t de­stroy the col­umns in or­der to ex­tract the lead,” said La­gogianni.

Fol­low­ing Greece’s in­de­pen­dence, Pit­takis was ap­pointed fore­man for an­tiq­ui­ties in Athens and fought fiercely to put to­gether the first state col­lec­tions ini­tially housed at the city’s best-pre­served mon­u­ments: Hadrian’s Li­brary, the Acrop­o­lis, the Tower of the Winds and the Tem­ple of Hephaes­tus. He also edited cat­a­logs and se­cured an­tiq­ui­ties in place to pro­tect them against theft. He tried to stop the il­licit trade in an­tiq­ui­ties and to prove to Euro­peans that Greeks were wor­thy of look­ing af­ter their an­cient her­itage.

De­tail from a litho­graph by artist Louis Dupre de­pict­ing Louis Fau­vel pos­ing along­side the Greek an­tiq­ui­ties he kept at home. Among them is the torso of a sculp­ture of an an­cient Greek soldier cur­rently on dis­play at the Athens mu­seum.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Greece

© PressReader. All rights reserved.