NEW YORK, NY.- The Onassis Cultural Center
will present an extraordinary group of 15th and 16th century paintings, including early works by El Greco.
Curated for the Onassis Cultural Center by Dr. Anastasia Drandaki, Curator of the Byzantine Collection at the Benaki Museum, Athens, "The Origins of El Greco" will present 46 exceptional works from public and private collections in Greece, Europe, the United States and Canada, many of which will be traveling to the U.S. for the first time.
According to Dr. Drandaki, The icon painters in the workshops on Crete in the 15th and 16th-centuries were renowned for their skill in painting impeccable panels not only in the traditional Byzantine manner but also in a style inspired by Western models. Although a dialogue with Western painting was not new to Byzantine art, a number of special factors undoubtedly helped to encourage the immersion of Cretan artists in Western iconography and style, especially after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. "The Origins of El Greco" will illuminate these fascinating developments as seen in rare panel paintings that span the course of two centuries.
At the core of the exhibition will be eleven superb icons from the Collection of Ecclesiastical Art, Saint Catherine of the Sinaites, Heraklion, Crete. Founded around the 10th-century as a dependency of the monastery of the same name at Mount Sinai, the Church of St. Catherine in Heraklion supported a large and learned monastic community by the 16th-century and since 1967 has housed a highly important collection of Orthodox icons and religious objects. Ten of the panels from the Collection of St. Catherine have left Crete only once before, in 1993, for an exhibition in Athens. The eleventh of this group, a Last Supper by Michael Damaskenos, has been outside of Greece only once, for a 1999 El Greco exhibition that traveled to Athens, Madrid and Rome.
Four icons in the exhibition from the State Hermitage Museum "Pietà" (from the collection of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Tsar Alexander II), "Resurrection", "Noli Me Tangere", and "The Virgin Nikopoios with Saints Athanasius, Spyridon, Marina, and Roch, and Saint Demetrios on Horseback" have never traveled at all since entering the St. Petersburg collection in 1930. "Deesis" by Nikolaos Tzafouris, from the Antivouniotissa Museum in Corfu, is also traveling for the first time.
As another unprecedented feature of the exhibition, the Onassis Cultural Center will reunite two wings of a triptych by El Greco "Baptism of Christ" belonging to the Municipality of Herakleion, and "Adoration of the Shepherds" belonging to Queens University, Kingston, Ontariowhich have only recently been identified as having once belonged to the same triptych.
Two other exhibition highlights are a famous early painting by El Greco, "The Dormition of the Virgin", which travels very rarely from its church in Ermoupolis and will be lent by the Metropolis of Syros; and a late, Spanish-period work by El Greco, "The Coronation of the Virgin", on view in New York for the first time courtesy of the collection of the Onassis Cultural Centers parent institution, the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation.