Tet­sis in the early years: For God and coun­try

Kathimerini pre­sents lit­tle-known church paint­ings cre­ated by the late Greek artist while he was do­ing his mil­i­tary ser­vice in the navy

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY SAKIS IOANNIDIS

A year af­ter the death of one of Greece’s most prom­i­nent artists, Kathimerini of­fers a glimpse of a mon­u­men­tal project that is al­most un­known to the gen­eral pub­lic, car­ried out by Panayi­o­tis Tet­sis (19252016) at the Church of Aghios Dim­itrios on the grounds of the Hel­lenic Navy Academy in Skara­man­gas, west of Athens, dur­ing his mil­i­tary ser­vice in 1948 – long be­fore he be­came a house­hold name as a post-im­pres­sion­ist seascape painter.

As icon painter and Byzan­tine ar­chae­ol­o­gist Ge­or­gios Tsan­ti­las ex­plains, Tet­sis first painted the church’s apse, de­pict­ing the Vir­gin Mary en­throned and hold­ing the Christ Child in her arms, flanked by two an­gels, as well as the Com­mu­nion of the Apos­tles be­neath that and the four archangels in the bot­tom tier of the paint­ing. The arch of the sanc­tum shows the As­cen­sion of Christ, with illustrations of the heal­ing of the blind man and the Good Sa­mar­i­tan to ei­ther side. The prophets are shown in medal­lion icons on the arch­way and again in full at the top of the dome, sur­rounded by the evan­ge­lists on the pen­den­tives.

“He is faith­ful to the Cre­tan style, very se­vere and ab­so­lutely lin­ear, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Pho­tis Kon­toglou,” com­ments the ex­pert.

“There is noth­ing of what we call artis­tic li­cense. Even the light cast on the gar­ments is ab­so­lutely lin­ear. This work al­lows us to ex­plore a dif­fer­ent side of the artist, which I be­lieve is the source of his art. He made the leap into free paint­ing af­ter first ob­tain­ing a strong grasp of Byzan­tine iconog­ra­phy,” adds Tsan­ti­las, who tones used in the back­ground are typ­i­cal of the Cre­tan School, which in­spired Panayi­o­tis Tet­sis, ac­cord­ing to icon painter and Byzan­tine ar­chae­ol­o­gist Ge­or­gios Tsan­ti­las. Other artists also con­trib­uted to the mu­rals seen in the church, which were re­stored on the ini­tia­tive of Rear Ad­mi­ral Alexan­dros Di­akopou­los, who heads the naval academy. knew Tet­sis per­son­ally but is also well ac­quainted with the artist’s work in iconog­ra­phy.

Tsan­ti­las and a team of as­so­ciates took on the task of con­serv­ing the paint­ings in the church, with­out mak- ing any in­ter­ven­tions in Tet­sis’s work, even though he be­lieves they need to un­dergo preser­va­tion. He ex­plains that Tet­sis also painted the icons on the tem­plon and is also be­lieved to be be­hind the stun­ning de­pic­tion of God the Almighty (Pan­tokra­tor) on the dome.

What makes this church par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing is that the only other ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal work that has been at­trib­uted to the artist con­sists of a few por­ta­ble icons and a se­ries of mu­rals in the Greek Ortho­dox Church of Aghios Niko­laos (Saint Nicholas) in Rot­ter­dam.

When con­tacted by Kathimerini, the church’s arch­priest, Ioan­nis Pso­mas, con­firmed that Tet­sis ex­e­cuted the mu­rals in the late 1950s while study­ing in Paris on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Be­naki Museum.

The Church of Aghios Dim­itrios in Skara­man­gas was built in 1945-47 and hosts a spe­cial an­nual ser­vice com­mem­o­rat­ing Hel­lenic Navy ca­su­al­ties. Over the years, how­ever, the el­e­ments, and hu­mid­ity in par­tic­u­lar, have caused ex­ten­sive dam­age to both the in­te­rior and ex­te­rior. The dam­age was re­paired re­cently on the ini­tia­tive of Rear Ad­mi­ral Alexan­dros Di­akopou­los, who heads the academy, which helped bring out not just Tet­sis’s work but also that of other ac­claimed artists who con­trib­uted to the art­work in the church while do­ing their mil­i­tary ser­vice.

“The navy acts ac­cord­ing to its prin­ci­ples, val­ues and tra­di­tions, and this is how we should per­ceive the work we have here. The Naval Academy is an ark of the corps’ tra­di­tions, and in these tra­di­tions we also see a cul­tural legacy,” says Di­akopou­los. “These pieces are a part of the artists’ creative evo­lu­tion even if they were done dur­ing their ser­vice.”

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the theme of the work by the other artists is mar­itime and in­cludes splen­did naval bat­tles painted by the likes of Costas Tso­clis, Chris­tos Car­ras, Tas­sos Syn­telis and Mil­tos Pan­telias, the lat­ter of whom also de­picted scenes from day-to-day life at the academy.

“The sub­jects were as­signed, but I painted in my own style. I was 25 at the time and in­flu­enced by my stud­ies in France, so I wanted my work to ra­di­ate an in­ter­nal light, a sense of melan­choly,” says Pan­telias, who re­vis­ited his works 30 years later dur­ing their con­ser­va­tion.

Athens Univer­sity art his­tory pro­fes­sor Manos Ste­fani­dis also served in the navy, but knew noth­ing of the ex­is­tence of these works un­til be was in­vited to visit the academy by Di­akopou­los.

To­day he notes that more re­search needs to be con­ducted into Tet­sis’s pieces in par­tic­u­lar to re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate their value.

“Tet­sis made those pieces in the fi­nal phase of the Greek Civil War,” says Ste­fani­dis. “Thank­fully his art pro­tected him from the hor­rors of war.”

The art his­to­rian also men­tions other in­ter­est­ing de­tails he noted dur­ing his visit to the academy – which is off-lim­its to the gen­eral pub­lic – in­clud­ing the main academy build­ing, which adopts the style of Ernst Ziller, a statue of bene­fac­tor Pan­tazis Vas­sa­nis by sculp­tor Ge­or­gios Bo­nanos, and a se­ries of seascapes by Vas­silis Hatzis, among other works by lesser-known artists.

Tableaux in the din­ing room by Chris­tos Kar­ras de­pict ma­jor naval cam­paigns.

A view of Vas­saneio Hall, with a skiff used by the cadets in com­pe­ti­tions.

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