Πέμπτη, 29 Ιουνίου 2017

The Ladies

The Ladies of The First Cemetery

Among the monuments of the men: heroes, politicians, movers and shakers, philosophers and writers, there are the ladies – not as many, of course. The golden age of sculptural grave monuments was the 19th and early 20th centuries – still pretty much a man’s world - and women, the real women of that era, as opposed to generic female figures such as angels or mourning spirits are less in evidence than the men.
For that reason alone, we find ourselves looking closely at the depiction of the women who are there, be they elegant, idealistic, realistic, imposing, or  just plain mysterious.
Here are just a few who have caught our eye:

 This rather unimposing bust of Kalliroi Parren by sculptor Costas Valsamis is one of the first ladies you will encounter. It was added to the Plaza in 1992 - 52 years after her death - in a better late than never acknowledgement of her contribution to women’s rights. She was Greece’s first feminist.  Her actual grave is tucked inconspicuously away in Section 4, Number 221.

The “wife of Mr Konstamouli” by  Ioannis Lampaditis  (1856-1920) reflects a severe  style popular at that time:

Section 7, Number 336

A closer look at our ladies often reveals an exquisite detail such as the arresting glance of the writer Charisis Pouliou (Χαρίσης Πουλίου).

Section 5, Number 219

a detail

The writing below the bust of Maria Triandafillou may have  completely worn away, but her intricate curls have managed to stand the test of time.

 Section 5, Number 575

On the family tomb of the Kastromenos family, a beautiful headscarf, style of the era, covers much of this lady’s hair.

Then there is the lady seated on the imposing 1930’s tomb of businessman  Othon Tetenes:

Section 8, Number 128
A mature work of sculptor Thomas Thomopoulos, this monument invites you to clamor up for a closer look.  

It is executed in a style rather earlier than its 1935 date might suggest, echoing an older family photograph  or painting. (1)   The husband is the very image of the pater familias, but she is equally impressive - enthroned rather than seated: calm, forceful, very much the matriarch.

Demitris Filippotis’ 1890 sculpture of Maria Kassimati shocked many because she chose to have her likeness placed prominently in the precinct of her first husband’s grave, quite overshadowing his own monument by the Fytalis brothers.

Hers is one of the most admired monuments in the cemetery She is relaxed, yet totally in control. Filippotis has rendered her in exquisite detail.

Popular female artists have fared well in the First

From Sophia Bembo by sculptor Nikolaos Ikaris,

Section 4, Number 220
               To Marika Kotopoulou,  by sculptor  Klearchos Loukopoulos,

                            (plaza file)   Plaza, Number 83
To Eleni Papadaki, by sculptor Vangelis Moustakas,   here depicted as Regan in King Lear.

Section 1, Number 375
Sleeping Ladies
Sleeping ladies are a genre all by themselves. There are six in the First–all but one are apparently true likenesses and most are in the traditional, romantic mold. But the one (1926) on the tomb of the Tsevas family by sculptor Evangelos  Vrettos is startling: 

Section 5, Number 219
Rather than resting in peace, she looks wide awake and ready for action….

Generic Ladies

Classical figures are no surprise if you have read our section on Ancient Greece in the Cemetery. There are two lovely examples on the walkway leading to Agios Lazarus Church.
Ioannis Vitsaris’ symbol of justice:

Section One, Number 132

 And Georgios’ Vroutsos’  
and  Georgios Vroutsos’ symbol of Science:

Section One, Number 100 

The Mourning Figure

One of the most prevalent ladies in the cemetery is the Mourning Figure, whether angel or not.  Her portrayal is the most varied and has undergone the greatest transition over time although obe should never underestimate the tendency to return to earlier models in the First cemetery, so dating a work is not always easy.
This one on the Andropoulos tomb is by sculptor Iakovos Malakates, one of the first sculptors in the First cemetery:

Section 2, Number 122,
On the Mandelas family grave, above, all of the mourning ladies wear headscarves, a custom that lasted until well after the Second world war in much of Greece. (sculptor Klearchos Loukopoulos):

Section 14, Number 145

 A beautiful bas relief in Section 14 called in Greek "Ω ΔΕΣΠΟΙΝΑ ΜΟΥ" translates into  something like “my honoured lady” and has no other name. It is by sculptor  Praxitelis Tzanoulinos:  

 Section 5, Number 483

The beautiful Sophia Chelmi ‘s lady looks as if she has forgotten something or is following a discussion taking place just beyond our line of sight: 

Section 4, Number 64

This elegant figure on the Ioannis Charisiadis family tomb by sculptor  Giannakos is the perfect blend of classical, religious, and contemporary. It’s severe classical elements make a bare breasted angel completely acceptable and normal:

Section 14, Number 31

a detail
The tomb of the Liveriatos family by sculptor Georgios Bonanos takes the genre a step in another direction…

  Section 7, Number 41
 Her face may be rather ‘neutral’ but her presentation with short dress and legs apart, in spite of the hands holding the traditional cross and lamp, is frankly sensual: 

Of course Bonanos was  a genius and we might have considered that he took the mourning figure as far as it could go until coming upon the tomb of the Diamantopoulos family by sculptor Nikolaos Stergios:

Section 4, Number 313

Each lady in the First, idealized or real (and we have only scratched the surface), is well worth  a closer look as you get to know the cemetery better.

(1) In fact both figures on this monument were modeled on much earlier portraits which explains the old fashioned look. Or perhaps the family simply preferred that style.

Παρασκευή, 26 Μαΐου 2017

The Charles Merlin Family

The Merlins

While wandering through the protestant section of the First Cemetery we noticed the name Merlin. That aroused our curiosity and, upon investigating, we discovered that Charles Merlin (1821-1896), founder of the Greek branch of the Merlin clan, was indeed something of a wizard.  As a British official, collector, and merchant/financier, he was one of many foreigners who, after 1830, saw real advantages in residing in the new Kingdom - and he got rich in the process. Charles would die in England but his offspring remained and have worked their own little bits of magic on the Greek countryside.


Family Beginnings

Charles Merlin was born in London in 1821 to French parents. He became a clerk and administrator at the British consulate in Piraeus, in 1839 at the young age of 18. His qualifications were pretty much the norm for the time: fluency in languages, good penmanship, and a willingness to further British trading interests.  When he arrived in Greece, Athens had a population of about 5,000 souls.  Piraeus had 1,000.

In 1846 Merlin became the British Vice-Consul. This was an honorary title requiring an income from other ventures, in his case as an employee of the Ionian Bank.  Between 1865 and his retirement in 1887 he served as the British Consul at Piraeus.

This latter position was salaried, but throughout his diplomatic career he, like most diplomats, was allowed to engage in commercial activities alongside his official duties. The post itself assured his desirability as a business partner and offered one more perk besides: access to the British diplomatic pouch, thus assuring his smooth rise to riches. Antiquities could be handily transferred to Britain with the utmost discretion.

 From 1865 to 1892, Merlin supplied some 460 items to the British Museum and sold others on the London art market

Demeter and Persephone, sold to the British Museum by Merlin in 1884 for 150 pounds (see footnote 1)

The practice of diplomats dealing in antiquities was widespread and at the time a perfectly acceptable pastime for ‘gentlemen’. Even the great Heinrich Schliemann marketed his finds on occasion.
The antiquities law in Greece (from 1834 to 1899) permitted sales of antiquities within the country and their exchange rapidly came to be understood as a profitable investment – among gentlemen of course, and all the more so if they could ultimately be trafficked abroad. There seems to have been a friendly rivalry among those in the know about Greek antiquities. Merlin commented rather unflatteringly during Schliemann’s excavations at Mycenae that his friend Schliemann was always wont to claim all “his geese as swans”. He had to eat those words when Schliemann discovered the grave circle there! 

Merlin was not at all shy writing about his activities. He explained that it was not just for profit but was his “patriotic duty”.  His many dispatches on the subject have become a source for researchers trying to investigate just how the antiquities trade worked in the 19th century. (1)

 By the 1860s Merlin was firmly ensconced as part of the Athens elite and was responsible for securing a number of loans for the Greek government through the mediation of the Ionian Bank. 

He returned to reside in England in 1887 -  a wealthy man and still working for the Ioanian bank, this time in London.  But he returned to Greece often. He built a wonderful mansion in the 1890s opposite the royal palace on Ag. Sophias Street and rented it to the French Embassy. The building was to be his daughter’s inheritance. (2)  

His children remained, becoming large landowners in Corfu, Crete, Lamia, and Attica. His son, Sidney, a crack shot, took part in the 1896 Olympic Games and two more as well. He was a trained botanist and introduced the now famous Merlin orange to Greece:

These oranges are prized for their sweetness 

  He was also responsible for a more exotic import, - introducing the elegant Kumquat tree from Japan, a wonderful addition to the Greek country side: 

No visit to Corfu would be complete without tasting a kumquat liqueur. It is the only citrus fruit that can be eaten skin and all.

An Interesting Footnote: The Enigma Machine, the Merlins and the Greek Royal Family

At the beginning of the Second World War and for several months, the Merlins housed the Greek royal family on their estate in Crete.  Because Bletchly Park had cracked the Enigma code, they knew of the impending German invasion of Crete.  It was one of the few times that they shared what they knew, - and warned the king.  The Merlins  remained at their house as if all was as usual in order to fool any German spies while the royal family escaped to Egypt. They themselves escaped only at the last moment. (3)

A small street near the French Embassy is still named after the family.

Their grave lists many Merlins

Map of the Protestant Cemetery

The Merlins are number 5 just inside the entrance


(1) See: On Her Majesty’s Service: C.L.W. Merlin and the Sourcing of Greek Antiquities for the British Museum by Yannis Galanakis
(2) It was bought by France in 1913 but is still named after  the French branch of the Merlin family, Hôtel Merlin de Douai, in their honour.