07 March 2011

Houses: Part Two

Thomas Hope
Capuchin Convent & Lantern of Demosthenes at Athens
(click to enlarge)

Several weeks ago Pierre MacKay wrote about his discovery in Evliya Celebi of descriptions of Florentine houses that were surviving in Athens in 1668.  He included images from the 17th century and 1765 of probable Florentine houses on the Acropolis.  I have just come across a drawing by Thomas Hope of what looks like remnants of a Florentine house surviving in the late 18th century.

Hope identifies this building as the Capuchin convent. The Lantern of Lysikrates is instantly recognizable, and Byron used the lantern for a study some years later when he stayed at the  convent. Though identified as a convent, the building looks like a private home and Hope has drawn a family beside the door. Three hundred and fifty years before Hope was in Athens, a Florentine built a house attached to the Lantern.  Later, an Ottoman builder added a balcony over the door beneath and built a new door with an Ottoman arch. He or another Ottoman builder enclosed the upper balcony on the left with a lathe construction.  Possibly the Capuchins were responsible for the addition -- stone on the ground floor, lathe above -- at the far left.  That house in Ottoman Athens couldn't have held many Capuchins.

Recall what Evliya wrote
[There are] fine masonry palaces, roofed all over with tile, houses like castles in their own right.  They have no gardens, but from the arches over the seats in the windows and screened balconies. . . . They are sturdy houses, like castles with battlements and loopholes, and built completely of stone---there are no wooden houses or houses with earthen roofs or mud-brick walls, but only splendid houses with stone walls set with mortar and lime. 
This house never had battlements and loopholes, and given Evliya's tendency to dramatize, it is probable that none of them did unless built against the city wall.  But if you remove the Ottoman additions you get a house that is probably early Renaissance and probably Florentine.  One feels there should be evidence of this in some Florentine drawing, in the corner of some Florentine painting, of the period.  The Florentines were buying Greek manuscripts and hiring Greek scholars long before the Council of 1439.  Even low-grade commercial traffic between Athens and Florence over a period of 50 years should have resulted in Athenian images for Florence.  The style of arbor on the right-hand side -- is it attached to columns? -- shows up in Italian frescos where sometimes awnings are added for outdoor feasting.  I love the typically Greek yard with trees in pots. 

A drawing of the monument from 1834 shows no house at all, as if all construction had been cleared away.  This is not necessarily evidence: 19th-century artists were relentless in pruning away non-classical elements from the views they presented.

Detail: Alfred Beaumont,  1834,
The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates

1 comment:

  1. Hi. Thought you might be interested in these two
    (a photograph from 1850-80; I saw it as '1875' somewhere, but can't tell where the author got that idea)
    and a painting by James Stuart in the 1750s


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