LYTRAS Nikiforos (1832-1927) “Kanaris Burning the Turkish Flagship”

Kanaris Burning the Turkish Flagship

`Kanaris Burning the Turkish Flagship` is one of the most important works of 19th century Greek painting. It is not only a landmark in the artist`s development but also marks the transition in depictions of historical themes, from the romantic tendency that prevailed in the School of Piloty to a more naturalistic one in which the genre element played the dominant role. Lytras` anthropocentric painting, as it evolved after he returned to Athens from Munich in 1865, was not concerned so much with the historical event per se. More so it was the projection of the heroic act carried out by brave persons worthy of emulation. The flaming ship is thrust into the distance to form the backdrop for the human action that is played out on a plane close to the viewer. Thus, in contrast to the ambiguous treatment of the background, where the ship disappears half-hidden by the smoke, the realistic rendering of the Psarians with Kanaris in the boat gives the work the immediacy and truth that interested the artist. Lytras based this work on the stories Kanaris told him during frequent visits to his studio while the painting was in progress. Lytras tried to portray the extraordinary effort of the fighters as it survived in Kanaris` memory – an example for subsequent generations, thus serving the educational aspect of genre painting. With every detail, he renders the tension of the muscles in the rowers` arms, and the characteristic attire of the day: breeches, sashes, and kerchiefs. Thus, the narrative aspect gains ground, and through a simple, nearly monochrome palette that moves with warm earth tones, the work achieves a gentle, familiarity without of course loosing its epic grandeur. This picture must have been painted in 1973 or slightly earlier because it was shown that year at the Vienna International Exhibition. It was also shown at the Paris International Exhibition in 1878 and in the Exhibition-Benefit for the Red Cross at the Melas residence in Athens in 1881.