DAY THREE: ARTFUL AWAKENINGS
Slow sinks, more lovely ere his race be run
Along Morea’s hills the setting sun;
Not, as in northern climes, obscurely bright,
Butone unclouded blaze of living light;
O’er the hush’d deep the yellow beam he throws
Gilds the green wave that trembles as it glows;
On old Ægina’s rock and Hydra’s isle
The god of gladness sheds his parting smile
The Corsair, Canto iii – Lord Byron, 1881
I awake early in the morning to the musical sound of bells ringing down below on the path and a quick peak out the window reveals a line of the gently swaying beasts being led past. So I arise and wave to the young boy and man in charge, who smile with equal warmth in reply.
I am determined to be productive on this, my third day, rather than head down to the beach and the weather, slightly cloudier than the previous, seems to be of the exact same mind. Having highlighted some of the most important sights in my guide on the island the night before, I therefore set off early in order too visit as many sights as physically possible. I begin with a trip to IAMY, the Historic Archives Museum of Hydra, located at the far end of the port directly below the villa.
HISTORICAL ARCHIVES MUSEUM OF HYDRA: LEONARDO CREMONINI
The Historical Archives Museum of Hydra was founded by the Ministry of Education and housed in its current location since 1972. There, they have collected a wonderful variety of original artwork and artifacts relating to national culture and Hydra’s own naval history. Spanned out over two floors is an astounding collection of antique military weapons, maps, nautical equipment, family heirlooms, folk costumes, traditional dress and the embalmed heart of the Hydriote hero of the 1821 revolution, Admiral Andreas Miaoulis.
On the first and third final floor is the work of one of Greece’s modern art geniuses, Leonardo Cremonini, six years after his death. Again, I had never heard of him before, for which I felt immediate regret upon seeing his work. The exhibition, entitled “θράσος του ήλιου” or “The insolence of the sun”, is a masterpiece of Grecian artistry and Hellenic vision.
“I have encountered the Greek art from the wall paintings of Pompeii. This knowledge of Greek painting helps me find a thread to reality.”
Cremonini once said and, as then written, so was done. His visit to Hydra in 2000 is said to have impressed him as well, as is evidenced by 32 works exhibited in which the uniqueness of its light, inhabitants and simple landscape lovingly rendered by the stroke of a brush in his hands.
It is an auspicious start to my journey of the discovery of Hydra’s artistic history and one from which I leave with much greater appreciation and knowledge of that yet to come.
HOLY CHURCH OF THE DORMITION
My next destination is the Holy Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos and the adjoining Ecclesiastic Museum. Unfortunately, to my frustration, the latter is closed. The cathedral is open nevertheless and once in its cool darkness, I immediately feel humbled, in the presence of something sacred.
It is dark and quiet in contrast to the sun’s early morning glare and noise of the crowds outside; a sanctum not only for myself, but as well for a woman dusting at the back of the church.
I hesitate, uncertain of whether it would be more circumspect for me to leave. The woman looks up with a smile however, as if beckoning me “Welcome! Come in!”
Once I do I understand, the look on her face having indeed been one of warmth and pride.
It soon becomes evident that the Cathedral remains lovingly attended and attended to even today. The icons glowed with luster, the heady scent of the polished wooden benches filling the dense air. It was immaculate and I was pleased that it was something I had had the opportunity to see.
My next stop was the Lazaros Koundouriotis Historic Residence high up in the hills. The ochre colored house stands out form the others not merely because of its sheer size, but also its elegance. Run by the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, it is kept as well maintained as the day its last descendant, Pandelis L. Koundouriotis, passed and provides tourists with a wonderful opportunity to see the historic living quarters of the former residents, filled with original local furniture and accessories. On display as well are the Museum’s own historic relics and ethnographic collection such as traditional costumes, jewelry and ceramics.
The art gallery in the basement is another revelation, for it is here that is housed the works of Periklis and his son, Constantinos Byzantios, donated by the daughter of Periklis, whose mother was the great-great granddaughter of Lazaros Koundouriotis himself.
Periklis Byzantios was one of the founding members of the Art Group and Atelier Group of artist, known today as the House of Arts and Letters, as well as a director of the Athens School of Fine Arts and Delphi and on Hydra. It was evidently in the latter role that his love relationship with “Hydra of unimaginable delights” evidently began, and the works donated focus on Hydriote subjects painted over a twenty-year period.
In them is reflected the same play of color as one might see at the dawn of sunrise or advent of sunset upon Hydra’s gentle sloping plains and hills. The light, diffused softly over the canvas, is reminiscent as well of the sparkle of the afternoon of sun over the smooth, white stones of Hydra’s picturesque bay. Emphasis is placed on a graduated display of shimmering hues and tones that match the tone of Byzantios spoken poetic passion for island and artistic vision.
And while Constantinos Byzantios paintings diverge somewhat from his father’s work, hislife paintings and portraits nonetheless continue to radiate with a similar love of movement and color.
The exhibition is to be the first of one of many during my trip and remains one of the highlights, as whilst I had studied Art History as an undergraduate at university, and thus classical Greek art, I had never been introduced to more modern works such as those I had seen today. Thus, what it provided me with was an introduction to new a form I had not had the pleasure before to come across.
That night, I met Dimitri full of excitement over my discovery. Being an artist, Athenian and Hydriote himself, he is not surprised. What follows is a lovely discussion on the enduring creative history of the island and long love relationship it has had with many historical and present day artists. And, at last, I begun to understand clearly its attraction and reasons it has drawn so many. The day thus ends as it was begun, with wonder at the beauty of the island’s continuing revelations.
COMING UP TOMORROW: PART IV