The rooms that now house the 65 portable icons donated to the Museum by collector Zacharias Portalakis first needed some serious reconstruction, undertaken by architects Yiorgos Parmenidis, Christine Longuepee and Ifigenia Mari. The result is definitely innovative and impressive: a dark room, where the self-lit icons seem to float in a fully black background, a testament to “uncreated light”. It is worth noting that for this special lighting needed to be designed and installed especially for this exhibition by an Italian company.
Icons of the renowned Cretan School co-exist with icons from the Ionian Islands, the Cyclades, North Greece and even icons from the Balkans and Russia. This is where the West meets the East, post-Byzantine art meets the influences of Renaissance and Cretan art meet the iconographers of Russia. The exhibition also features a signed work by Zacharias Kastrofylakas, known in Heraklion as the painter of two despotic icons in the Church of the Presentation (small Agios Minas). A small triptych, illustrative of the famed artist's mastery of miniature art, and a rare example of such work by him. This icon combines the traditional iconography of 18th century Crete with western elements and decorative themes of the East, as the archaeologist, Byzantine art historian and curator of the exhibition Chrisavgi Koutsikou explains.
The transcendent, mystical experience of visiting the exhibition is complemented by the temporary exhibition “Divinity (dis)continued" hosted in the next room, featuring important works of Modern Greek art (1950-1990) exhibited for the first time in Crete. Again, the theme (and inspiration) is religious. A monumental-sized Annunication-Poetry, a late work by the great master of Modern Greek art, Konstantinos Parthenis; Tsarouchis' "David" and "The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian”, works from the dictatorship years, when he was living in Paris; works by the pioneering Abstract Expressionist Theodoros Stamos from his well-known Infinity Fields series; and Kapralos' sensational Pietá, a sculpture-study on the theme of Mother.
And if at first sight you cannot grasp the “divinity” and spirituality of these works of art, the extremely informative leaflet that accompanies the exhibition, written by the art historian and curator of the Museum Deniz-Chloe Alevizou will guide you through the artists’ gaze and experience. We were lucky enough to enjoy a private tour with Deniz-Chloe Alevizou and we were initiated to the underlying principles of religious and modern art, sometimes invisible to the uninitiated spectator. However, there is still a unique magic when visiting a Museum exhibition, trying to decipher works of art that seem unfamiliar, opening a creative dialogue between the artist and the visitor’s psyche.