Angeliki Hatzimichalis ΑΓΓΕΛΙΚΗ ΧΑΤΖΙΜΙΧΑΛΙΣ
Born 1895, Athens Died 1965, Athens
Section 6, Number 458
Angeliki Hatzimichalis, nationalist, prolific writer, painter and so much more has been rightly called the mother of the 20th century folklore movement in Greece. Her literary and artistic output was so great that it is hard to imagine how she managed it as well as traveling extensively for research, raising her family, and lending her name and help to innumerable charitable and cultural foundations including the Delphic Festival. The answer must lie in her own energy and drive, but also in her background - in the cultural milieu provided by her own family, her marriage to Platon Hatzimichalis which, among other things, gave her the wonderful house in the Plaka which is still standing and is now a museum dedicated to her work. When it was built in the 1920s it proved to be the ideal meeting place of the likes of Costis Palamas,Angelos Sikelianos, his wife Eva Palmer, and so many others. It would be impossible to write about the culture and preoccupations of the Greek intelligentsia in the interwar period without including Angeliki Hatzimichalis.
Angeliki as she saw herself
Angeliki was Plaka born and bred and her love and nostalgia for the district during her childhood shines through whenever she writes about it:
I grew up in the Plaka when the houses all had tiled roofs, gardens, grape arbors, stone terraces and flowerpots filled with fragrant blooms.
She could have added that hers was a closely knit neigbourhood where households all knew each other. Her father was Alexios Kolymbas (Αλέξιος Κολυβάς), a professor of literature and newspaper publisher who hailed from Zakynthos. Her mother Sofia was the daughter of Gregoris Bournias, a notaire from Chios. This is how Angeliki describes her childhood home:
Some of his collection can now be found in Athens’ Byzantine and Christian Museum. A little farther down on Adrianou Street, in an old Athenian house, lived her maternal grandfather amid another treasure trove of books and art. Her grandfather’s many friends in the world of arts and letters included Demitrios Kabouroglou who has written so much about Athens in the 1800s. Angeliki would say that a love of art and literature flowed naturally through her bloodstream and permeated her psyche.
She first attended the Hill Girl’s School in Plaka, a school which was literally a hop, skip and jump from her home. There she already showed a marked talent for drawing.
Angeliki as a ‘Hill’ girl
After graduation she continued high school studies at home but then ran into her first roadblock! Her father flatly refused to let her study art at the Athens Polytechnical School because the lessons were co-educational! That seems an odd stance for such an educated man. Women had been admitted to Greek Universities in 1890. Was he an overprotective Papa or merely conservative?
But he did set aside a room in their home for Angeliki to use as a studio and hired Georgios Roilos (Γεωργιος Ροιλος) one of the best artists of the Munich school to teach her at home. He then went a step further and rented a space in the Zappeion to become a studio for girls only. Angeliki would spend her afternoons there for three years in the presumably safe environment while, at the same time, acting as her father’s secretary. To allow her to pursue her interest in theatre and recitation, her father did allow her to follow classes at the Odeion for a year, but then forbade her to act in “Mary Stewart”, the play which the students presented at the end of the year. (Why do I keep thinking of Elizabeth Barrett Browning?)
Angeliki married twice. This first marriage produced a daughter Erse in 1921 and then it seems to have disappeared off the radar of her biographers. It is a little intriguing. Erse’s father is referred to in every text I came across simply as “the engineer Glytsos”. No first name…
Platon Xatzimichalis, her second husband was a much more substantial and long lasting figure. He was wealthy with close business ties in Germany, as the representative in Greece of the Schenker Company and Continental Tire.
Early in their marriage (1924), Angeliki worked closely with Macedonian architect Aristotelis Zacho (Αριστοτέλη Ζάχο) on her new house in the Plaka. It is still standing, and a ‘must visit’ because it is rare anywhere to find a home that embodies in its style and decoration the spirit of its owner. Its style is eclectic, inside and out, -a little bit Florentine, a touch neo-Byzantine, folk-art touches everywhere and yet, surprisingly modern and functional.
Visiting it is easy because it is now the Angeliki Xatzimichalis Museum of Folk and Tradition Art (Μουσείο Λαϊκής Τέχνης και Παράδοσης «Αγγελική Χατζημιχάλη»)
I am ashamed to say that I walked by it for years, noting its unusual façade and then just kept on going! You should not. The ground floor is up a few steps and the vestibule sports an impressive stained glass window:
The roomy ground floor receiving rooms flow into each other.
On the north wall of the drawing room is a large wooden staircase leading to the second floor. (Servants had their own narrower ones leading up from the kitchen area.) Above this staircase is a window looking out from Angeliki’s work room to the living area below, but also close enough to the stairs leading up to the third floors that she could have heard the children. This room was truly a room for multi-tasking!
Her office ‘window’ on the top right
Her view to the downstairs
A modern (for the day) kitchen is on the northern side of the house within easy reach of the dining room.
The furniture, the wood carvings (even on the door jambs), the fireplaces and the paintings –all carefully considered works of art- speak of her taste and interests.
You might say that Fate had a hand in Angeliki’s life and pursuits. After the destruction of Smyrna in 1922 and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne which defined a smaller Greece in the Balkans, the ‘Megali Idea’ of a greater Greece encompassing the lands of the former Byzantine Empire was well and truly dead. This precipitated a great intellectual upheaval in the Greek perspective. The ancient world was still vital, of course, but it began to seem imperative to also stress and prove the continuity of a Greek presence in the Balkans, to examine Greece’s more recent past and its interconnections in the Hellenic world– and that led to an increased interest in groups like the Sarakatsani and the origins of traditional dance and local costumes. Greek folk art became and has become a great source of national inspiration. I think it would be true to say that Angeliki and her friends considered themselves as not mere recorders, but as part of a movement to reveal all traces and proofs of the Greek national identity – and they found them everywhere.(1) Her home and later the museum are testaments to the movement.
The rooms on the second and third floor are dedicated to exhibits she collected or people she photographed throughout her career. There is an extensive library as well. It is a treasure trove of information. One room is dedicated to the Sarakatsani people of Northern Greece, people that her writing proved to be an integral part of the Greek mosaic.
This large photo of Angeliki in a folk costume hangs in her office today
The twenties and thirties were productive years – but then came the war.
Platon Hatzimixalis was certainly not the only man in Greece in the thirties who had close ties with Germany. There were others who, knowing the up side of German culture, believed they could somehow find a way to, if not accommodate the Germans, at least to be in a position to influence them for the good of the country. Platon was persuaded, or persuaded himself, that joining the quisling government of Georgios Tsolakouglou (Τσολάκογλου) as a minister (first without portfolio and then as Minister of Economy) in 1941 would not be treasonous.
According to her daughter Erse, Angeliki did not agree with her husband’s decision. She curtailed her appearances and set out to use her connections to save many a soldier in Athens by scrounging up enough material to help clothe them in civilian clothing after the Nazis declared that anyone found wearing a uniform would be arrested and worse. (It is hard to imagine poverty so great that even a change of clothing was difficult to obtain). During the occupation she apparently worked with Lelas Karayanni (Λελα Καραγιάννης) and used her house as an armory for weapons heading to the mountains.
Platon was not forgiven for his choice and, after the war, was sentenced to 20 years in prison as a collaborator. This situation is glossed over in most articles about Angeliki because of her own contributions during and after the war but, no matter what fame and kudos her work brought her, this must have been a gut-wrenching experience. She continued her work after the war until her health finally failed.
There is something deceptively simple and yet compelling about her portraits. This might be because she painted so many of her famous friends and acquaintances and thus immortalized her vision of them and their era:
Angelos Sikelianos and Eva Palmer
She died in 1965 after a very long illness. She and Platon, who died in 1964, are buried together in her father’s plot in The First Cemetery
The Street where she built her house has been renamed in her honour: it is now number 6 Xatzimichalis Street. A plaque embedded in the wall records this and a bust in the house’s enclosed garden is a reminder as well.
It is an interesting relief: Justice in the form of a child (?) sitting under a rather schematic tree…
(1) While not overtly political, the folk art movement nonetheless had a political side to it. With various countries in the Balkans vying to promote their own national story, there has been a lot of competition and disagreements about the ‘national’ pedigree of many local folk customs.