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Preserving historical mosaics April 18, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece.

Exhibition in Athens on the work of the late Yiannis Kolefas, one of Greece’s most esteemed conservators

The art of mosaics goes back thousands of years, yet their scientific study and conservation are fields that have been advanced mostly in the past 50 years. Artist Yiannis Kolefas (1927-1986) was the first academically trained conservator of mosaics in this country and one of the few conservators who pioneered new techniques. He trained in painting and mosaic restoration at the Ravenna Academy of Fine Arts and, after his return to Greece in the late 1950s, began traveling around the country with the mission of preserving and restoring historical landmarks.

Both his contribution to the conservation of ancient Greek and Byzantine mosaics and his parallel work as a painter is the subject of “Yiannis Kolefas: Journey in the Art of the Mosaic” an exhibition held at the Byzantine and Christian Museum and jointly curated by Eleni Margari and Kolefas’s daughter, Olga, a restorer of paintings.

Kolefas worked for almost a decade as a mosaic conservator at the museum. He was hired the same year that Manolis Chatzidakis the Museum’s Director at the time, founded the Central Conservation Laboratory. Kolefas worked in the department along with other esteemed conservators, such as Fotis Zachariou, Tassos Margaritof and Stavros Baltoyiannis.

Part of his work as a conservator entailed making copies of original mosaics, a practice that helped conservators to exercise their skills in old techniques while also making mosaics known to a broader public. Among the copies he made is the templon of the Porta-Panaghia Church in Trikala, central Greece. Included in the exhibition, this reproduction shows Kolefas’s ability to capture the patina of time.

The exhibition also includes some of the original mosaics that Kolefas worked on. A large floor mosaic depicting the four seasons and dated from the beginning of the late 4th century AD, now in the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, is one of the most impressive. A Hellenistic period mosaic showing centaurs is dated to around 325 BC and belongs to the Archaeological Museum of Pella.

In the same room, a series of photos document the process of detachment and restoration of a large mosaic dating to the Hellenistic period and depicting the ancient hero Bellerophon. The mosaic was discovered in 1975 during excavations in the ruins of the Hellenistic city on Rhodes and, thanks to the work of Kolefas and his team, was safely transferred to the island’s Archaeological Museum.The mosaics in the courtyard of the Byzantine and Christian Museum, which date from the 5th century AD, were also moved from their original sites by Kolefas.

Although the exhibition does not provide detailed information about the techniques used in the restoration of mosaics, it does present the basic steps in the craft. In one of the rooms, a display of the tools and materials used both for the making and restoration of mosaics reproduces the feeling of a workshop.

Kolefas was in charge of every step. He even visited the quarries to choose the stones himself and commissioned glass paste tesserae from Venice. His meticulous work earned him important assignments which included the restoration of the mosaics in the churches of Aghios Georgios (Rotonda) and Aghia Sophia in Thessaloniki and the mosaics at the Daphni Monastery.

However, his work as a restorator did not distract him from his vocation as a painter. Before specializing in mosaics, Kolefas had studied painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts. In his early works, mostly full-body portraits, the influence of his teacher Yiannis Moralis stands out.

A large part of the exhibition reveals his output as an artist. Apart from a series of mosaics, many of them based on Byzantine motifs, Kolefas also made landscapes inspired by the travels he made in Greece as a conservator. Folk subjects derived from daily life in Epirus, his homeland, recur in his work and become more pronounced in his later period. The watercolors depicting scenes of agrarian life are among the best.

Being a painter must have enhanced his skill as a restorator. In fact, one of his most important projects stems from a combination of the two. The large mosaic “Hymn to the History and Art of Macedonia” which Kolefas made for the central hall of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University, captures his understanding of both painting and mosaics. It also expresses Kolefas’s commitment to honor the history and cultural heritage of this country. The exhibition is primarily aimed at putting across this sense of commitment. It is an exhibition that does not narrow itself to the work that Kolefas did as a restorator but sketches out a broader presentation of an artist’s creativity.

At the Byzantine and Christian Museum, 22 Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, Athens, tel 210 7211027, to June 17. Nearest metro station is Evangelismos.

Related Links > http://www.lrf.gr/demos/byz/homepage.html

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