Collection's title

Τhe Burning of the Turkish Flagship by Kanaris, c. 1873

Τhe Burning of the Turkish Flagship by Kanaris, c. 1873
Τhe Burning of the Turkish Flagship by Kanaris, c. 1873
Lytras, Nikephoros
(Tinos 1832 - Athens 1904)
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Oil on canvas

The Burning of the Turkish Flagship by Kanaris is one of the most important works by Lytras, and of Greek nineteenth-century painting, since it not only marks the evolution of the artist's career, but also the transition in the rendering of the historical subject from the Romantic tendency which dominated the School of Piloty to a more naturalistic approach in which the genre painting element occupies the leading role. In Lytras's anthropocentric painting, as that evolved after his return from Munich to Athens in 1865, it is not the historical event in itself which is the centre of interest, but the projection of the heroic deed performed by brave men, worthy of imitation. The burning flagship is pushed to the back of the picture, serving as the setting for a human act, which is brought forward on to the foreground, near the beholder. Thus, in contrast with the indistinct handling of the background, in which the flagship is half-hidden in smoke, the realistic rendering of the men of Psara, with Constantinos Kanaris in the boat, lends immediacy to the event, as what interests the artist is the truth. Relying on the narrations of Kanaris himself, who often visited him in his studio while he was painting the work, Lytras attempted to depict the superhuman efforts of the freedom-fighters - an example for future generations - as those were preserved in the memory of the fireship captain. In this way he served the educational character of genre painting. The tension of the muscles in the arms of the oarsmen, the typical costumes with the breeches, the cummerbunds, the kerchiefs are all depicted in every detail. Thus, the narrative factor is constantly gaining ground, and with a simple, almost monochrome, colour range in warm earthy colours, the work acquires a calm and familiar character, without losing its epic grandeur. It must have been produced in 1873 or a little earlier, since in that year it was exhibited in the International Exhibition in Vienna.