31 August 2013
Before the mid-day sun became too hot, I climbed the narrow streets and hills of the hill town of Rethymnon this morning to the old Venetian Fortezza that looms high above the town.
I have been there many times before, but today I wanted to see an exhibition of icons that is being staged as part of the 26th Renaissance Festival of Rethymnon this year, before it comes to a close tomorrow.
The exhibition is being staged in the Artillery Hall, close to the entrance to the Fortezza, and this is the second year an exhibition like this has been organised as part of the festival.
About 30 icon writers or painters are taking part in this exhibition, some of them well-known in Greece, but at least two remain anonymous, exhibiting simply as a member of the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration and as a member of the Holy Monastery of Saint Irene, while George and Christopher Karaviotis give each other equal credit for their works. There is also once icon on loan from the Byzantine Art Centre in Rethymnon, which I visited last night.
But many are neither priests nor monks, and there are some woman among the exhibitors, including Eleftheria Syrianoglou, who is exhibiting a number of “table icons” worked in on various shapes of olive wood.
Emmanuel Nikolidakis works his three icons – including the Holy Four Martyrs of Rethymnon – on glass, and then frames them against a red background so they can be seen distinctly. George Christides has three large modern interpretations of traditional themes: the Lamentation at the Burial of Christ, the Annunciation, and the Angel of the Apocalypse.
There are new interpretation of the images from Fayum, which tell us a lot about the early development of icon painting, an amusing image of the “Sea gives up its Dead” ... although the artist is not listed in the catalogue.
This is an exciting collection of works seeking to maintain, develop and reinterpret a tradition religious art form.
The exhibition has been sponsored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Diocese of Rethymnon and the Municipality of Rethymnon.
Last year’s exhibition was visited by Patriarch Bartholomeos, and the Metropolitan or Bishop of Rethymnon, Metropolitan Evgenios, who voiced their hope then that this exhibition would become an annual event.
After a further walk around the Fortezza, we stopped briefly in the shop, where there is an interesting collection of modern icons on sale.
We climbed back down through the side streets and alleyways and had lunch in Sarlo on Palaiologou street before heading down to the municipal beach for a swim in the sunshine and a walk along the shore.
For the next week I am staying in Pepi Studios on Tsouderon Street in Rethymnon. The name of the street honours the former Greek Prime Minister, Emmanuel Tsouderos (Εμμανουήλ Τσουδερός) (1882-1956), who was one of the best-known Greek political figures to have been born in Rethymnon.
Tsouderos was involved in the moves that led to Crete being integrated into the modern Greek state 100 years ago in 1913; he played a critical role in establishing the Bank of Greece during another financial crisis in the 1920s; and during World War II, he was involved in the resistance movement. He served briefly as Prime Minister of Greece, then as Prime Minister in the Greek government-in-exile, and he came close to securing an agreement with Britain that would have seen Cyprus becoming part of the modern Greece state in lieu of war reparations.
Emmanuel Tsouderos was born in Rethymnon in 1882, when Crete was still a part of the Ottoman Empire. He left his native Crete to study law at Athens University, and economics in Paris and London. When he returned to Crete at the age aged 24, he was elected to the Cretan Legislature (1906–1912), which ruled the island while Crete had autonomous status under the protection of Russia, Britain, France and Italy.
After ενωσις (enosis) or the union of Crete with Greece 100 years ago in December 1913, Tsouderos was elected to the Greek Parliament. Soon after, he joined the Liberal Party of the Cretan-born Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and was elected to the National Assembly again in 1915 and 1920. From 1919 to 1929 he represented Greece in many international meetings on commercial and economical issues and in talks on the Greek national debt.
He was Transport Minister under Venizelos, Finance Minister under Themistoklis Sophoulis (1860-1949), who was born in Samos, and Transport Minister again in the fourth Venizelos cabinet in January-February 1924.
As Deputy Governor of the National Bank, Tsouderos negotiated with representatives of the League of Nations in 1927 on establishing the Bank of Greece as a new central bank. The bank was officially formed on 15 September 1927 and began operating on 14 May 1928. Tsouderos became the first Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Greece, and when Alexandros Diomidis resigned as Governor of the Bank in 1931, Tsouderos succeeded him.
He was a vocal opponent of the Metaxas dictatorship, and Metaxas sacked him from the bank in 1939. Then, in 1941, as the Nazi army advanced towards Athens, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexandros Koryzis, committed suicide on 18 April, and Tsouderos succeeded him as Prime Minister of Greece on 21 April 1941. Eight days later, on 29 April 1941, as the army command prepared to capitulate, a defiant and heroic Tsouderos fled from Athens to Crete with King George II. Back in his native Crete, Tsouderos reorganised the Greek forces to resist the inevitable German invasion.
Tsouderos fled again during the Battle of Crete a month later. He went to the Middle East and later to Egypt. Tsouderos then headed the Greek government in exile from 29 April 1941 until 13 April 1944. The government was initially located in London, but subsequently moved to Cairo.
As Prime Minister in exile, he was at times also Foreign Minister (April 1941), Finance Minister (April to September 1941 and June 1943 to April 1944) and Interior Minister (May 1942 to April 1944).
As Prime Minister, he signed a memorandum with the British government in 1942 that agreed that Greece would receive control of Cyprus as a war indemnity. However, under British pressure, he resigned as Prime Minister on 13 April 1944. He later served in the government-in-exile under Sophocles Venizelos.
In the first post-war, centre-left cabinet of the by-then elderly Themistocles Sophoulis, he was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Co-ordination from November 1945 to April 1946. In the cabinet of General Alexandros Papagos (1883-1955), an ageing general who had crushed the left in the Greek Civil War, he was Minister without Portfolio from November 1952 to October 1955.
Tsouderos died at the age of 74 in Nervi, Genoa, on 10 February 1956. He donated his papers to the Gennadius Library in the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.
His daughter, the journalist, writer and economist Virginia Tsouderou, is a former Deputy Foreign Minister and New Democracy deputy. She was born in Iraklion in Crete and studied at Oxford, the University of Minnesota and Radcliffe-Harvard. She is a founding member and honorary president of the Greek branch of Transparency International.
Recently, she has been critical of the parlous state of Greek politics and public life. “There has been a silent agreement between the two main parties for decades that there was no political corruption in Greece,” she said recently. “But people are so angry now that if the government does not open up and crack down on corruption there will be big trouble.”