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painting

The Heptanese School of Painting (also known as the Ionian Island School) succeeded the Cretan School as the leading school of Greek post-Byzantine painting after the fall of Crete to the Ottoman Empire in 1669. Like the Cretan School it combined Byzantine traditions with increasing Western European influences such as the Italian Baroque and Flemish styles including three-dimensional perspective and the use of oil painting on canvas. The School also saw the first significant depiction of secular subjects such as bourgeois portraiture emblematically emphasising class, professions and psychology. Other subjects from the Heptanese School includes genre scenes, landscapes and still lifes. Zakynthos was an important centre of the Heptanese School of Painting as some of the key exponents of this school were born and worked for long periods of time on the island or spent key parts of their working lives on the island; and today, some of their paintings decorate local churches and museums.

Nikolaos Doxaras (1700/1706-1775), son of Panagiotis Doxaras continued the artistic legacy of his father. Between 1753 and 1762, Doxaras worked in Zakynthos and in 1753–1754 he painted the roof of Faneromeni Church in Zakynthos town that unfortunately was destroyed in the earthquake of 1953. Only a part of it has been saved and is exhibited today at the Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos. An original work, The Birth of the Mother of God, is also displayed in the Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos.

Portrait of an erudite by Nikolaos Koutouzis

Nikolaos Koutouzis (1741–1813) received lessons from Nikolaos Doxaras and continued to the move towards western European standards of painting. He was particularly known for his realistic portraiture (including a self-portrait) that emphasised the emotional background of the subject. He also reputedly painted a portrait of a baby Dionysios Solomos. After living for a period in Venice, he traveled back to Zakynthos in 1766, and painted the famous Procession of St Dionysios. Several of his other paintings are displayed in the Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos. Koutouzis also wrote satirical poems on local affairs and scandals which often landed him in strife.

Chemist Nikopoulos by Nikolaos Kantounis

It is believed Koutouzis’s most famous pupil was Nikolaos Kantounis (1767–1834), one of the most prominent members of the Heptanese School of Painting. In 1786, he was also ordained a priest and later became a member of the Filiki Eteria (Friendly Society), a secret society instrumental in organising the Greek War of Independence of 1821. As a result of his subversive actions, the British occupiers of Zakynthos exiled him to the island of Kyra, near Cephalonia. He was able to return home after the recognition of Greek independence in 1832. A number of his portraits (including a self-portrait) survive but some of his most important church decorations in Zakynthos were destroyed by the earthquake of 1953. Some of his icons have been preserved in some local churches and the Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos.

One of Kantounis’s students on Kyra was Dionysios Tsokos (1814-1862). Although of Epirote parentage, he was born and spent his early years on Zakynthos. Tsokos was one of the last representatives of the Heptanesian School of Painting. He is mostly known for portraits and historical scenes which combine elements from the Heptanese School and Italian styles.

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