Three centuries of Greek costumes as seen by travelers
Prints from the the John D. Koilalous collection at the Benaki Museum
If it were not for the drawings that traveling painters to Greece produced from the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century, what local people dressed like, especially in the earlier period, would have remained largely unknown. In many cases, the initial drawings were later made into engravings, lithographs or etchings that were either presented on their own or printed in books or albums which were commissioned by private clients or publishing houses.
A large selection of this important documentary material is presented in “The Greek Costume, Printed Sources of the 16th - 19th century from the J.D. Koilalous Collection” at Benaki Museum in Kolonaki. Curated by Fani-Maria Tsigakou, the exhibition has been organized on the occasion of the donation that the collector J.D. Koilalous made to the Benaki of more than 500 printed images of Greek costumes.
The images are presented according to the region from where the costumes depicted originate. Displayed one after the other, like the open pages of a book, they afford valuable information about clothing as attributes of social class, profession, gender and taste.
However, those depictions should not be taken as exact documentations of Greek costume for, in varying degrees, they reflect the projections that western travelers made on what they saw. As the exhibition’s curator said, researchers should not rely on any one image as a source of information but make comparative studies to appraise the objectivity of an image and arrive at a a solid conclusion. Factors such as who the painter was, his skills as a painter and whether he actually visited a region or painted based on secondary images are important.
Many of the images reflect the rising interest in folklore that began in the 18th century. Others derive from the trend of orientalism. Many diplomats that were posted in the Orient, for example, bought local costumes and posed with them for their portraits. Several images in the Benaki exhibition are based on those portraits.
Most prints depict single figures but there is also a selection that documents banquets and festivities, although most prints are portraits of a single person.
The Benaki has printed a comprehensive, bilingual catalogue of the J.D. Koilalous exhibition.
“The Greek Costume” at the Benaki Museum (1 Koumbari, Kolonaki, tel 210.367.1000) to November 12.