FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION 200 + 200 Decorative and Applied Arts 1621 – 2021

Under the Patronage of H.E. the President of the Hellenic Republic Ms. Katerina Sakellaropoulou

Form has always followed function. European decorative and applied arts from the 17th until the 20th century adjust to a diversity of cultures enabling through their process and application the expression of current religious, political, and economic norms.

The Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire (1821-1829), was a cataclysmic event which, however, gave birth to a new nation-state: Modern Hellas, simply known as ‘Greece’ at the present time. It was an all-out war fought both on land and at sea, a valiant struggle in the name of freedom, justice and, as a corollary, modernity. As such, it harnessed the resources of a deep-rooted tradition of liberal thinking and cultural expression.

The exhibition does not merely divulge the story of the ‘Greek Revolution,’ but illuminates the material culture that comprised the communities which eventually rose against the mighty Ottomans. Undoubtedly, rural, and urban Greeks of the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, employed the material culture of their despots. At the same time, they also turned their gaze westwards, as they were fascinated by the arts and styles that they discovered in ‘Europe’. Following the Renaissance, the Baroque and the Rococo movements, arts were influenced by their style, travelled to Greece to apply to the local needs and tastes. Thus, the exhibition reveals the story of the material culture spanning from 200 years prior to the Greek liberation until its modern-day aftermath.

Interactions were plentiful and significant. As new symbolisms were being invented, meanings were in many instances reversed. The making of the mechanisms of the fighting guns in the 1700s is a case in point: they were originally produced in Spain, Albania and Italy, brought to mainland Greece, from as early as before the War of Independence. On the Greek mainland they were remodelled and bejewelled with elements of the fine and traditional Greek crafts and particularly metalsmithing techniques. Comparably to pocket watches, table clocks, ceramics, and jewelry, all relics not only were usable items but also became symbols of liberation, hierarchy, and status.

The ruins of the war are some of the only remarkable artifacts that have remained and can be found in Greek private and museum collections, where they exemplify the many centuries of historical turbulence in Europe. These relics are resistant to time and are thus considered today significant works of art that provide us with valuable information concerning daily activities, traditional events and proof of historical instances.

This exhibition endorses the making of artifacts, their use, and their aesthetic and inspires further investigation for contemporary traditional crafts and applied arts.

MAPPING: Commerce in Europe in the years of the Turkish Empire, is widely perceptible on engravings of maps. Commercial activity has taken a new lead since the end of the Middle Ages, bringing to Europe not only the finest of materials from the East, but also the compilation of recently developed workshops and guilds. Nonetheless, most of the precious finished articles or just parts of them are transferred with ships across the Mediterranean and are delivered to the Turks and the suppressed Greeks. The transportation of items becomes more facile following political treaties. The Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca granted Eastern Orthodox Christians the right to sail under the Russian flag, giving way to Greek shipowners to flourish spectacularly, and in turn transfer back and forth valuable goods.

MAKING & FIRING: Arms and Armor from the Eastern Mediterranean, was an extremely popular enterprise undertaking. The mechanisms and the barrels for the fighting guns were originally produced in Italy, Spain and Albania and were then brought to the Greek mainland, redecorated after changing ownership as spoils of war. Starting before and during the years of the War of Independence, they were remodelled and bejewelled to become one-of-a-kind items. Pistols, flint lock, blunderbuss, knives, swords, bullet cases, and their paraphernalia bring to light facets of the Mediterranean Greek crafts and become symbols of liberation, hierarchy, and status.

THE IDENTITY OF ATTIRE: Functions of attire and jewelry in men and women from the Greek mainland occupy an important component of Greek Traditional Crafts history. In a continuously changing society, dress becomes a principal symbol of local societies with innumerable combinations of local habits and ethnographic traditions. “Greek traditional jewelry” follows grooming or ceremonial use, through an incredible embracement of the human body’s most focal parts. Large pieces are kept today as precious artifacts commemorating traditional functions of the 18th and the 19th centuries and truly manifest an important chapter of Greece’s ethnographic history.

ART DE LA TABLE: Heated Ceramics all the way from the early 15th century Iznik to western Meissen Porcelains and Rhodesian earthenware, these beautiful home ware become remnants of the modern European productions. Found on the Turkish and Greek tables and decorated with the most beautiful designs and colours, the art de la table is found with all social classes. An attempt to set the table of Petrobey Mavromichalis, the Greek general, politician and leader of the Maniot people, who on 17 March 1821 raised his war flag in Areopolis effectively signalling the start of the Greek War of Independence, with French porcelain bearing his initials shows the elite of homeware use on the Greek mainland.

A necessity or luxury, ceramics ignite further research and inspiration returning in fashion both as decorative and practical items.

PRECIOUS SMALL: Bejewelled snuff boxes, seals, storage boxes narrate daily life activities, indicate social standing, and testify daily routines. Nowadays, these small objects are debased works of art and are often granted insufficient space in museum displays. Although our investigation has uncovered thousands of these precious decorative arts together with their making, mechanics, and many other secrets, a selection has been meticulously chosen to display accountable highly elite social activities such as smoking and writing.

THE VALUE OF TIME: Pocket watches and clocks that were used by inhabitants of the Greek mainland, followed the technological trends of western Europe. Uniquely found artifacts today are the “onion” pocket watches with triple cases, that were ordered and compiled to the orders of the Ottomans with the inclusion of Arabic numerals. These selected watches from Greek collections are shown as remnants of the revolution, with many of these perfectly precious portable items decorated for the fighters of the Independence war. Table clocks, with philhellenic themes, for wealthy Europeans aspired to the compassion for the Greek liberation. Table clocks although acquired simpler mechanisms and kept a heavy baroque style, can be restored today for daily use and truly represent the functional aspect of their production.

 

Communication Sponsor: Kathimerini