22 August 2009

Nauplion: The Column

Old images of Nauplion raise more questions than answers. Take the column.

In 1834, just after the capitol of Greece had been moved to Athens, a German artist produced this watercolord sketch (left) of the main plateia at Nauplion, showing a column. The column stands beside a former mosque, and has the base of a minaret, but the rest is a fluted Greek column, and a fluted column of extraordinary size.
This image was much reproduced in various forms.

The same year, another German artist produced a sketch of Ag. Giorgios -- a former mosque -- at another plateia, with this same column and base beside it (right). This is what artists did then, before, and after -- cut and paste, rearrange, enlarge, blur -- to make their point. And in both of these sites, remnants of a minaret base can be located, but another contemporary image of the first site shows no base or column.

[Note: 27 February 2012.  This column has been solved and has nothing to do with what follows.  A Bavarian woman who lived across from Ag. Giorgios in 1834 wrote this:

In front of the cathedral [Ag. G.] facing our house is, as I told you before, kind of a loggia, 3 doors open into the church, at one side is the bell tower, surely unique, like a top decoration of a cake, 2 bells hanging toneless between the little columns, a piece of string attached to them is just hanging down and tied to a nail, even small street urchins can reach it (to my despair). Behind the campanile rises a Turkish minaret of the same height, broken down to half size so as not to darken the campanile completely.

* * * * * *

The question, one question, is, does this column have anything to do with the huge column that appears in the Camoccio image? It is the first known image of Nauplion, from 1571, much used in this blog already. Camoccio did not commit himself to the type of column, and though there is a crescent on the column, he shows no mosques or minarets. The Ottomans controlled Nauplion, but he was working from an older Venetian image, adding crescents to indicate the situation. He never actually saw Nauplion, so there may have been a column in the picture he copied, or he may have reasoned that Greece has columns, so he should include one. Except that he didn't include such columns in his other images of former Venetian cities in Greece. So one suspects an earlier artist drew the column first.

No source before 1571 mentions such a column, but sources before 1571 hardly mention any structure but the defense walls.

In fact, it is almost a certainty that an earlier artist produced a column because an image drawn a year earlier by one Zenoi ( a Greek living in Italy?) shows a construction in the same position, but one apparently borrowed from an image of the Hippodrome in Constantinople. The Hippodrome had assorted columns and constructions down the center, and presumably this attenuated pyramidal shape is what could be expected "over there" in Greek-speaking lands.

ian artists took to Zenoi's idea, rather than to Camoccio's, and Valeggio employed it in 1576, making the column-pyramid a little more vertical and giving it some tiny people.

Rosaccio used it in 1598, working both from Camoccio and one of the other pyramid people. He replaced the tiny people with helmeted soldiers and added a rider with helmet and sword.

None of the written sources ever got around to mentioning a column, or a pyramid.

A whole slew of Venetian images of Nauplion came out of the 1686 reconquest (see the previous blog) and the subsequent thirty-year Venetian Occupation. While these often showed minarets, none of them showed a column.

And there the column problem could be left, except that it reappears in those images up above produced just after Independence. There is probably no connection between those German drawings and the Italian engravings, beyond the idea that Greece = columns. Still, there is one more, really problematical picture that takes the column in a completely different direction,

In this excerpt from a 1839 watercolor of Nauplion -- a huge blurry watercolor from a vantage point that never existed of a city with a degree of grandeur that never was-- Skene paints a tall tower on the slope of the hill. This tower has windows, and rises five stories above the three-four story houses around it. No pre- or post-Independence sources on Nauplion -- and there are a lot -- mentions a tower, or column, or pyramid.

Just asking.

Once again, thanks to The Nauplion of the Foreign Travellers by Aphroditi Kouria for the pictures.,


  1. I've enjoyed looking and reading through your interesting blog.

  2. The 3 pics of the pyramides with a ball on top remind me of a question I can't answer some time:
    what are these pyramides doing in the Venetian paintings of the presentation (of the virgin Maria) in the temple? (Tintoretto in Madonna dell'orto, Tizian in the Accademia, and ?? in San Zaccaria).
    I expected it to be a question of art, but artists/students of art I asked don't know.
    The relation to free masonry symbols is possible, but why would the pyramid then be placed so prominently in the paintings??

    Maybe there is a suggestion from your historian's point of view?

  3. I suspect the ball-on-pyramid here comes from earlier images of Constantinople, & that the painters adopted it as a representation of "exotic place over there with interesting buildings." I have not collected CP images per se, but that would be the place to begin.

  4. Further reflection on the Nauplion column has made me decide that there is no connection between the 16th-17th C columns and those of the 19th C columns. It is most probable that the Nauplion minarets were destroyed during the Epanastasis or just after, and what the first two pictures above show are two different broken minarets, not one that has been moved about for artistic convenience, as I suggested. The puzzling detail about those broken minarets or columns is then the indication of fluting. This is a Seljuk, rather than an Ottoman, characteristic. There is a fluted minaret in Rethymon, but it is very late 19th C. If these are not fluted, but just the artists' indication of multi-sided minarets, such as the Suleiman Mosque minaret on Rhodes [http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQrNgaBQmd2qbdSQpfEzR9mGC3A7YxSjZguhUqlDy0KO64QWPm3], it would be simpler.


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