Greek Revolution Paintings

April 9, 2021

By George Vardas

At a recent talk in Sydney, ‘Through the eyes of Makriyannis’, Dr Vasilis Adrahtas brought to life a number of the iconic paintings commissioned in 1836 by the legendary Greek hero, Yiannis Makriyannis.  

The original 24 paintings by Panagiotis Zographos, on wooden board, depict famous scenes of the Greek Revolution that began in 1821 and which Markiyannis wanted to be recorded as part of the ‘theology of revolution.’ 

As Dr Adrahtas explained, these exceptional works embody the visions and memoirs of Makriyannis who fervently believed in the continuity of Hellenism, and are based on Greek folk art with roots in neo-Byzantine hagiography and naïve art. 

Only eight original panels survive today in the National Historic Museum of Athens. Copies of the paintings were subsequently given to King Otto and the monarchs of the three Great Powers that intervened on the side of the Hellenes, namely Russia, France and the United Kingdom. 

The introductory work is known as the ‘Just Decision of God’ and depicts Makriyannis’ view, or vision, of righteous divine intervention in the Greek Revolution because God, as a living God, “felt the sorrow of the Hellenes and Philhellenes,” and their just cause for freedom.

The Fall of Constantinople is the second of the introductory works and at first glance it appears to be an incongruous inclusion in a series of works dedicated to the Greek Revolution of 1821. 
However, this painting spans almost 400 years of history from the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and narrates both the trials of subjugation and the spirit of defiance which prevailed during the dark years before the Revolution. 
The appearance of Rigas Feraios (in the left of the painting) sowing the seeds of freedom adds to the powerful narrative that Greek defiance would eventually prevail. 

In this picture of the first siege or battle of the Acropolis in 1822, one may ask, “Where is Athens?” 
It appears as a series of small houses in the right side of the painting beneath the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis. This work is about the antiquities of Athens as Makriyannis reclaims ancient history. The fighters are seeking to reclaim the antiquity as personified by the Parthenon atop of the Acropolis. As Makriyannis later wrote, “these are what we fought for.”

Here we see naval battles, fought over different periods, and include the islands of Hydra and Spetses, brought together in one work of art through the artist’s transformation of the time-space continuum. It depicts a David v Goliath battle with the smaller Greek ships overcoming the large Ottoman fleets.

This picture captures the siege of Navarino (the neo-castro) where a very fierce battle resulted in a Greek loss. An interesting addition to this painting is that Makriyannis is actually depicted in an evzone costume in the battle immediately below the castle.

The exciting presentation by Dr Vasilis Adrahtas was organised by The Athenian Association NSW in collaboration with the Greek Community of NSW and under the auspices of the Holy Archdiocese of Australia.