The Mystery Artist: In Search of François Perilla

The American School’s haphazard art collection continues to fascinate me. It lacks any thematic cohesion and at first glance often makes no sense, because most of the works have little to do with the institution itself. Yet, it remains a source of mystery because these same works are also associated with people who were once deeply involved in the School’s affairs. Before they ended up at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter), these objects decorated the walls of private houses and were part of those households’ life history. In Janet Hoskins’s Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives (1998), six women and men from Eastern Indonesia tell the history of their lives by talking about their possessions, thus creating an identity for themselves through objects they made, bought, were given, or collected. Our people are no longer alive but many of their possessions are with us, and they have a story to tell us (if we ask them…).

The Blegen-Hill house at Ploutarchou 9, ca. 1960s. ASCSA Archives.

Most of the artwork that hangs on the walls or decorates the mantels of the various buildings of the School comes from two households. One was the residence of two couples, Carl and Elizabeth Blegen (the Blegens) and Bert and Ida Hill (the Hills), who lived together at Ploutarchou 9 (Kolonaki) in the 1930s; the other belonged to the archaeologist George Mylonas and his wife Lela who lived in Saint Louis (Missouri) in the 1930s before they moved back to Greece in the early 1970s. Although both households were set up about the same time, the Blegens/Hills, because of Elizabeth’s personal wealth, began purchasing artwork immediately, while the Mylonases, both younger and refugees from Asia Minor, did not begin acquiring art until the early 1950s. (I have written about the nature of the Mylonas collection in a post titled “The Spirit of Saint Louis Lives in Athens”; on the two couples living at Ploutarchou Street read “The End of the Quartet: The Day the Music Stopped at Ploutarchou 9,” by Jack L. Davis; and Pounder 2015.)

Lately I have been trying to identify the items from the Blegen-Hill household, which came to school almost intact after the death of the house’s last occupant, Carl Blegen, in 1971. Although we have an inventory, the fact that the objects were not photographed or tagged before they were dispersed among the various buildings of the School (including Corinth) makes it difficult to identify their origin today.  Some of the art, such Giovani Battista Piranesi’s “Vedute di Roma,” is easily identifiable, but portions of the collection remain shrouded in mystery.

In addition, we also lack indoor photos of the house, except for the one that shows the so-called “Greek Room.” (Take for comparison the interior of John Gennadius’s house in London, which was professionally photographed, making it easier to identify the artworks from it that came to the Gennadius Library.) Still we are slowly putting together a picture of the life and art at the Blegen residence. In a recent conference about Carl and Elizabeth Blegen, Vivian Florou reconstructed through archival research some of the social life of the house at Ploutarchou 9 during its peak times, before and after WW II (Florou 2015).  In “Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros,” I identified some of the embroideries and pottery that were once part of it.  In “The Grecian Landscapes of Anna Richards Brewster,” I suggested that an oil by Brewster might also have once been belonged to the Blegens.

Today’s post focuses on another large painting that once hung on the walls of Ploutarchou 9 (item no. 10 in the Blegen Collection), but is now adorning the walls of my new office: a watercolor depicting the temple of Hera at Olympia, signed “F. Perilla 1930”. A quick search on the internet produced a few brief references to auction catalogs that identified him as a French art historian and artist, born in 1874, as well as to two recent translations of books he wrote about Chios (1928) and Mount Pelion (1940). A search in “Ambrosia” (the ASCSA’s online book catalogue) proved more fruitful, with several entries to publications by Perilla.

Temple of Hera at Olympia, watercolor by F. Perilla. ASCSA Archives, Art Collection.

From Nowhere

The earliest entry dates from 1927 and is titled: Le Mont Athos. Son histoire – ses monastères – ses oevres d’ art – ses bibliothèques.  It is a medium size volume (32 x 25 cm), of about 200 pages, printed in Thessaloniki by a French publisher whose name and address figure prominently on the book: J. Danguin, Éditeur, 3o, Rue Jacob, Paris. In the Preface Danguin is also identified as the owner of “Éditions Papyrus.”  The eye-catching drawings –lithographs of watercolors, or woodcuts of sketches– are by Perilla. Le Mont Athos is not a travel book but a scholarly publication to judge from Perilla’s bibliography.  In the book’s Preface, the author reveals the only biographical information we have about him: that he did not know anything about the history of Mount Athos until 1920 (when he was already 46 years old), but which he managed to master and write a book about in the next seven years by conducting extensive library research and by taking three trips to Mount Athos in 1923 and 1924. It was during these trips that he produced the twelve watercolors and the numerous sketches that are included in the publication.

 

Watercolor of the Simon Petra Monastery by F. Perilla reproduced in Le Mont Athos. ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

Within a year of the publication of Le Mont Athos, this middle-aged man, who seems to have appeared from nowhere, produced two more illustrated books: a short one, more of a travel-guide, about the Daphni Monastery and an impressive tome on Chios.  Chio: L’ ile heureuse, Editions Perilla (1928), is a lavish edition on thick paper featuring many of the author’s watercolors (15), sketches, and photographs from his time on the island. (A Greek translation of the book was published by the Coraes Library in 2009.) In the preface of this volume, Perilla thanks George Choremis, Leonis Calvocoressis, and Nicolas Paspatis for their hospitality. He must have been a guest at the Choremis mansion which he praises for its famous garden (περιβόλι) and rich library. In the Daphni book he is already advertising the appearance of three more travel books: Salonique, Mistra, and Excursions en Grèce. Not only this, but by 1928, when the Chios book appeared, Perilla had established his own publishing house, titled “Editions Perilla,” using the Nike of Samothrace as his logo (although he is still printing in Paris with “presses de A. Lahure” and Théo Brugière for the plates).

Two years later (1930) Perilla published Grèce: Croquis dè route, this time a car journey, sponsored by the newly founded (1924) Automobile and Touring Club of Greece (Ελληνική Λέσχη Περιηγήσεων και Αυτοκινήτου, aka EΛΠΑ), to promote travel to ancient and modern sites in the Peloponnese and central Greece. It’s in this b­­ook that I discovered the watercolor of the Temple of Hera at Olympia, which ended up at Ploutarchou 9. In addition to being a fine artist and scholar, Perilla could write prose with ease, thus making his books something between travelguides and travelogues:

“A une petite gare isolée au bout de la plaine d’ Argolide, un nom fameux retentit: Mycènes! … Où est Mycènes? Là-haut, cachée dans les montagnes. Montagnes arides, sombres, sinistres; asile du people sauvage et rude qui bâtit une ville, des palis, des tombeaux par l’ amoncellement titanique de blocs immenses.”

(For the production of this small book he went local, trying one of the largest and oldest printing houses in Greece, the Aspioti-Elka enterprise in Corfu).

In the meantime Perilla continued his prolific production by publishing another large volume: À travers la Macedoine (1932) which is, in terms of size and quality, equivalent to Le Mont Athos and Chio. This book was also was printed by Aspioti Elka, except for the fine heliogravures which were printed in France. The photography is particularly noteworthy.  Unlike Perilla’s previous books where photographs were sparse, this one has many of high quality, including captivating portraits of local men and women and breathtaking aerial photos (which must have required expensive equipment).

Photograph of a Macedonian shepherd by F. Perilla reproduced in À travers la Macedoine. ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

Aerial photo of Tsimiski Street (Οδός Τσιμισκή) by F. Perilla reproduced in À travers la Macedoine. ASCSA Gennadius Library.

A Sought-After Travel Writer

Through these books Perilla must have earned a fine reputation as an author, artist, and publisher. In 1936 the organizers of the Third International Congress of Comparative Pathology in Athens (IIIme Congrès International de Pathologie Comparée a la Faculté de Médecine d’Athenes, du 15 au 18 Avril 1936), under the patronage of King George II, commissioned him to enhance the conference program with a series of watercolors illustrating some of the archaeological sites that the participants and their spouses were going to visit during a two-week cruise at the end of the conference. (I was fortunate in finding this book by accident while browsing the Geography and Travel section of the Gennadius Library because it is not listed under Perilla’s publications.)

Watercolor of the Tomb of Agamemnon at Mycenae reproduced by F. Perilla in the Congrès program. ASCSA Gennadius Library.

About this time –it is unclear exactly when because it is sine datum—Perilla published another volume, also rare today, about the Greek islands. Sponsored by “la compagnie de cabotage de Grèce,” as a means to promote cruise travelling, Les iles de la Grèce featured text, watercolors, and aerial photos of the Cyclades. (Another copy of this rare book can be found in the Dimitris Kondominas Collection at the Benaki Museum.)

Just before the outbreak of WW II in Greece, in June 1940, Perilla published a pocket size, tour book about Mount Pelion (Au pays des centaures. Le Pélion (1940), printed in Athens by “Pyrsos Editions”). We have no idea if he stayed in Greece throughout the War or if he went back to France or elsewhere. Perilla is, however, in Athens by 1942 when he republished Daphni. A year later he republished Grèce: Croquis dè route under a new title, Aquarelles de Grèce. In a brief preface he explained that he did it because the 1930 edition had been exhausted, but also because he wanted to pay tribute to Greece, the land of his happy wanderings (“vagabondages heureux”). There is a gripping detail in this book: the announcement of a publication about Romania (“en préparation: Roumanie”) which makes me wonder if he spent the early years of the War in the northern Balkans. (A bibliographic search for the Romanian book did not produce any results, most likely because it was never published.)

Watercolor of the Temple of Hera at Olympia by F. Perilla reproduced in Aquarelles de Grèce. The original watercolor is now part of the ASCSA Art Collection.

A Neighbor of the Blegens?

In 1944 Perilla published two more books: Vieille Athènes and Promenades Attiques. Both included new watercolors and photography, especially Vieille Athènes where for the first time the photos surpass in number the watercolors.  Promenades Attiques features more impressive aerial photography (see the spectacular photo of Piraeus), which he must have taken before the War.

Aerial photo of Piraeus by F. Perilla reproduced in Promenades Attiques. ASCSA Gennadius Library.

In the preface, we learn one more biographical detail about Perilla, that he lived on Ploutarchou Street (“la rue Plutarque où j’ habite, l’une des plus sympathiques de la ville…), which means he was also a neighbor of the Blegens and the Hills, although the Blegens and Mrs. Hill were in America during the War. (Elizabeth Blegen who also painted watercolors must have known Perilla’s work and him personally.) Still he must have bumped into Bert Hodge Hill, who was the only member of the Blegen-Hill household, who continued to live in Greece during the War. Although Perilla’s choice of words in the preface is careful, he does not hesitate to refer to the gloomy atmosphere of the city, with the “death engines” flying over the famous Attic sky (… “d’invisibles engins de mort voguent dans la stratosphere”), as well as to reminisce about prewar, carefree days. I wonder, however, how he managed to finance three new editions during the German occupation, when most printing houses had been shut down or were under close surveillance (none of his war publications provide any information about the printer). In 1945 Perilla issued Loisirs d’ Athènes which is described as “édition de luxe,” but, unfortunately, we do not have a copy at the Gennadius Library.

Photograph of an Athenian house on Hadrian Street (Οδός Αδριανού) by F. Perilla reproduced in Vieille Athènes. ASCSA Gennadius Library.

Watercolor depicting an Athenian street by F. Perilla reproduced in Vieille Athènes. ASCSA Gennadius Library.

Publishing the Makriyannis Paintings…

His next book came as a surprise to me. In 1949 Perilla published the twenty-four paintings of General Makriyannis in a noteworthy edition which featured both color and black- and-white lithographs of the paintings (Fragments de la vie heroïque de Makryjannis suivis des ses images de l’ époque grecque). In Chapter III, where Perilla writes about the history of the paintings and their rediscovery by John Gennadius, he mentions the American School and the Gennadius Library where the paintings reside; yet, I found it strange that he does not thank either the Librarian of the Gennadius Library or the Director of the American School for permission to publish the works or for their facilitating his research. No less interesting, the Gennadius Library had to buy the book from Kauffmann’s bookstore in 1954. You would think that Perilla would have given a copy to the Library (unless it was lost for some reason). Whatever is the story, we are grateful to Perilla for producing an illuminated initial with the Gennadius Library in it.

The Vanishing Intellectual

One of his last publications, most likely the final one, is a book about the three heroic islands of the Greek War of Independence: Hydra, Spetsae, Psara… (1950), also printed, as the Makriyannis book, by Pyrsos Editions. As usual, the book features many of his watercolors as well as pencil drawings –a novelty–but no photographs. The text is informative and recounts the history of these islands, especially in connection with Greece’s independence.  By the time Hydra came out Perilla was 76 years old, but he remained a good storyteller.  We lose track of him after 1950 (and there is no death date in the bibliographic entries of his books in libraries).

For a man who was so intellectually productive, it is strange (not to mention sad) that he remains so forgotten. Of course, history is full of examples of vanishing artists and authors, who were once extremely popular and then faded into oblivion. Who remembers Hans Makart, except for a few scholars, who was a contemporary of Manet and Monet, or George du Maurier, Henry James’s friend and rival? (There is a nice short essay “How do Artists Vanish” in the Spectator by art critic Martin Gayford, who is contemplating the future of Damien Hirst; and for the rival friendship between Du Maurier and James, I recommend a favorite novel, Author, Author by David Lodge.) Some are rediscovered, others not…

But back to Perilla.  I am particularly curious to know what happened to his watercolors, sketches, and his vast photographic collection. Iole Vingopoulou, a connoisseur of travel authors and travelogues, comments about how little we know regarding Perilla: only that he lived in Athens for a few years, around 1930, and wrote illustrated travel books (Vingopoulou 2005, p. 128). Eleni Beliyanni in her introduction for the Greek edition of Χίος: Ευτυχισμένο Νησί (2009), was also not able to contribute any new information about Perilla’s life. The Teloglion Arts Foundation in Thessaloniki may be in possession of some of Perilla’s artwork because his name appears in the list of paintings exhibited in one of their shows in 2013, titled Η Θεσσαλονίκη των Τέλλογλου. ΖωγραφικήΧαρακτικήΓλυπτική. But other than that and the School’s watercolor of the Temple of Hera at Olympia, where is the rest of what must have once been a substantial art collection?

Note: After I had written this post I received a note from Jack Davis informing me about another book by Perilla, published in 1954 (at the age of 80) titled Delphes (unfortunately we don’t have a copy at the Gennadius Library).


References

Florou, V. 2015. “The House at 9 Ploutarchou Street: A Grape Arbor and a Dense Shadow of Beautiful Meanings,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J.L.Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta, pp. 121-146.

Pounder, R. L. 2015, “The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair,” in Carl Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives,” ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015, pp. 85-98.

Staikos, K. and I. Vingopoulou, 2005. Ο Ελληνικός κόσμος μέσα από το βλέμμα των περιηγητών, 15ος-20ός αιώνας : ανθολόγιο από τη συλλογή του Δημητρίου Κοντομηνά, Athens.

 


Blending Two Cultures: The Gennadius Library Dedication in 1926


Posted by Maria Georgopoulou

Inspired by the recent inauguration of the new Makriyannis Wing, Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library, here contributes an essay about the festivities that took place during the dedication of the Library in April 1926.


The new Ioannis Makriyannis Wing at the Gennadius Library

On June 2, 2018 the American School inaugurated the new Makriyannis Wing of the Gennadius Library. During the preparations for the opening, I was tempted to look back at the festivities for the inauguration of the Gennadius Library itself in 1926. As with other momentous moments in his life, John Gennadius was keen to keep in his scrapbooks as much information as possible about the events (Opening Exercises of the Gennadius Library, preserved in Scrapbook Φ38, p. 36).

The dedication ceremony of the Gennadeion took place on April 23, 1926 at 4.30 pm, after extensive preparations in America and Athens. The letters exchanged between John Gennadius and Bert Hodge Hill, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), in November and December 1925 deal not only with significant matters, such as guest lists, but also with smaller details like the duration of the blessing (αγιασμός). Read the rest of this entry »


The Bohemian Past of Madame Gennadius

On Saturday December 27, 1902, a well-publicized wedding took place in London.  John Gennadius, former ambassador of Greece to England and a great book-collector, age 58, and Florence Laing, the youngest daughter of Samuel Laing and the widow of painter Edward Sherard Kennedy, age 47, were married in a double ceremony, first at the Greek Orthodox church of St. Sophia and later that day at the Anglican church of St. Peter’s at Cranley Gardens.  There are no photos capturing the ceremony or the reception that followed, but Gennadius, the creator of more than seventy scrapbooks, did keep numerous newspaper clippings announcing this celebrated marriage. More than a few of them mention that the bride had an annual income of roughly 8,000 pounds, leading some to hint that it may have been a marriage of convenience. Time proved that their union was a harmonious one; it lasted 30 years until his death in 1932. She outlived him by another twenty years. The Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was the offspring of their union. The deed of gift was signed in 1922 and the building was completed in 1926.

John and Florence Gennadius, ca. 1925. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

John and Florence Gennadius, 1920. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

The best source for John Gennadius’s life is a small, but thorough, booklet, Joannes Gennadios, the Man: A Biographical Sketch (1990), by Donald M. Nicol, director of the Gennadius Library (1989-1992). In it, there is very little information about the circumstances of how Gennadius met Florence Laing Kennedy. Nicol suspects that they were introduced by “Prince Alexis Dolgoruki, an acquaintance of Gennadios, [who] had married an English lady, Miss Fleetwood Wilson, who was an old friend of Florence.” In an endnote, Nicol mentions that Florence was an artist in her own right, having exhibited her “genre paintings” in the Royal Academy and other London galleries between 1880 and 1893. Read the rest of this entry »


“So very far away, but maybe it’s only yesterday”: Greece in Crisis, 1964, 2014.

The Admiral's House, 1964

The Admiral’s House, 1964 (ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records)

“The decision made at the last Board of Trustees meeting… was to appoint a committee… to make an immediate study and prompt report on the Admiral’s House which as you know the School for some time has had the opportunity to buy. Will you, as Chairman of the Committee of the Admiral’s House, be good enough to write immediately to Henry Robinson, asking him to request [of] Mr. Kyriakides that he make a careful report as to the desirability of the house, the possibility of obtaining it and an appraisal not only of the price which the School should be willing to pay for it, but also his estimate of the price the owners would accept, the best terms available, the cost of maintenance, the cost of repairs or changes the School would need to make, the use to be made of it by the School, the income which the School would expect to receive from it, and the estimated cost of taxes or any other expenses which would be involved by the School in the advent of its purchase” wrote on December 7, 1964, Ward Canaday, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) to Charles Morgan, Trustee of the School and one of its former directors (1936-1938), and chair of the Managing Committee (1950-1960). Read the rest of this entry »


“A Greek Author Travels to the Country of the New Myth”: The Voyage of Elias Venezis to America in 1949

This essay comprises the text of a talk that I presented in the Cotsen Hall auditorium of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), April 9, 2013, at an evening devoted to novelist Elias Venezis, whose papers reside in the Archives of the Gennadius Library. The text was also published (in Greek ) in the “Athens Book Review,” in an issue dedicated to Venezis. Since my essay discusses two of Greece’s most important novelists’ impressions from their journeys to America, I thought that it also deserved to be published in English and be made available to an American audience (here, I must thank my friend and former colleague Stefanie Kennell for her wonderful translation). For half of my life I have studied and worked in a Greek-American environment; there interest lies in examining how foreigners (usually described as philhellenes) perceive(d) Greece, and it is rarely discussed, at least in the broader community of the American School, how Greeks experienced America at critical times, such as in the first decade following WW II. The two authors, Elias Venezis and Yiorgos Theotokas, traveled in America during the period of the Marshall plan and the beginning of the Cold War, just before strong anti-Americanism began developing in Greece. For both, the voyage to America was a journey to a mythical land — as implied by the title of this essay, which is drawn from the title of a talk (“Ένας Έλλην συγγραφεύς στη χώρα του νέου μύθου”) that Venezis delivered at the Greek American Cultural Institution in 1950, immediately after his return from America.

"The Thirties Generation" in 1963

“The Thirties Generation” in 1963

For those who are not familiar with Modern Greek Literature, I should also add a few remarks about the so-called literary “Generation of the Thirties.” As commonly employed, this term describes a group (all male) of novelists, poets, and artists, who came of age in the 1930s. These men continued to be very productive and influential in the following three decades, to the point that a myth with regenerative power was built around them, one that still aspires and inspires (Leontis 2013). Nobel-prize laureate poets Yiorgos Seferis and Odysseus Elytis, novelists Angelos Terzakis, Stratis Myrivilis, Elias Venezis and Yiorgos Theotokas, are some of the most accomplished and distinguished “members” of the “Generation of the Thirties.” The personal papers of most of them have been deposited in the Gennadius Library of the American School.

Elias Venezis

Elias Venezis

 In 2009, at an event devoted to Yiorgos Theotokas and the republication of his Essay on America, I was introduced to Greek travel literature about America. Theotokas was among the first writers of the so-called “Generation of the Thirties” who visited America a few years after the end of World War II. While taking receipt of Elias Venezis’s personal papers in 2010, I came upon the manuscript of Land of America and then, in discussions with the author’s daughter, Anna Venezi Kosmetatou, I was made aware of the fact that Venezis was actually the first of the famous “Generation of the Thirties” to travel to the U.S., in 1949.

Except for Theotokas’ Essay on America (Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική), which had the good fortune to be re-published a few years ago, travel writing of this type is difficult or impossible to find on the shelves of Athenian bookstores. When I looked for Land of America at a well-known bookstore in downtown Athens, clerks told me that it was the first time they had heard that Venezis had written a book of this sort. Perhaps this is because, in the age of globalization, trips to America have lost some of the magic and myth that used to surround them. Already in the 1970s, as Vassilis Lambropoulos writes, “with the spread of cinema and even more the advent of television in Greece, travel writing is losing its primary function and sparkle. The public does not need the guidance of an eyewitness to get to know foreign countries.”

Αμερικανική γη (Land of America) by Elias Venezis

Αμερικανική γη (Land of America) by Elias Venezis

Unlike the other writers and intellectuals who visited the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, Venezis began his long journey without the support of the American government. The famous program of cultural exchanges sponsored by the the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, popularly known as the Smith-Mundt Act, does not seem to have been implemented immediately in Greece. What is certain is that Elias Venezis and his wife either did not know about or did not expect American government support when they decided in the summer of 1949 to cross the Atlantic. On the opposite shore was Venezis’s brother, Thanos Mellos and his wife, the mezzo-soprano Eleni Nikolaidi, who had settled there just a year before.

Thanos Mellos wrote to his brother Elias and his wife on May 6, 1949, from New York: “I’ve told Elias that a place has been confirmed for his trip to America on a merchant ship that sails from a port in France. Perhaps there’s a way he can embark even from Greece. The trip won’t cost a cent. The steamship owner’s a friend of ours, and he’s offering it to us for free. You only have to get your papers ready, Elias, and send me a telegram.” Read the rest of this entry »


An Archival Paradox, the Expédition de Morée, and a Mysterious Love Affair

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to the Archivist’s Notebook  an essay about literary activities of members of the  Expédition de Morée and his recent discovery of an unknown epistolary novel by Jacques-Louis Lacour.

In 1984, in the years of the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, a friend gave me Kyriakos Simopoulos’s monumental Ξένοι ταξιδιώτες στην Ελλάδα as a birthday present. It is a work extensively based on research conducted in the Gennadius Library. Later I discovered Simopoulos’s equally impressive Πώς είδαν οι ξένοι το ’21. The final chapter of Πώς είδαν was for me an invaluable introduction to the greatest military and scientific mission ever dispatched to Greece by a western European power: the Expédition de Morée.

General Nicolas Joseph Maison

General Nicolas Joseph Maison

A French fleet left Toulon in the summer of 1828, and on August 30, Lieutenant General Nicolas Joseph Maison landed with 14,000 troops at Petalidi near Kalamata, preferring not to expose his force to Ibrahim Pasha’s cannon fire at Navarino. Thus began a four-year military intervention that laid infrastructure for an independent Greek state.

The French maintained a military presence in the Peloponnese until August of 1833. The fighting soon complete, they turned their energies to reconstruction: roads, hospitals, a postal service, and repairs to fortresses. And in late 1828, scholars and scientists arrived — an Expédition Scientifique de Morée organized in three sections: “Archéologie”; “Histoire Naturelle” (later called “Sciences Physiques”); and “Architecture et Sculpture.” Read the rest of this entry »


Le Noir et le Bleu: An Exhibit about the Mediterranean in Marseilles

The exhibit's catalog

The exhibit’s catalog

Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) declared “J’ ai passionément aimé la Méditerranée” in the preface of the first edition of La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen a l’ époque de Philippe II (1949). Archaeologists of my generation had to read or at least leaf through this three volume magnum opus written during Braudel’s captivity in concentration camps in Mainz and Lübeck during WWII (and delivered in lectures to fellow prisoners).  “Had it not been for my imprisonment, I would surely have written a much different book…” wrote Braudel in his “Personal Testimony.” Much more about Braudel’s life and work can be found in the excellent biographical essay by historian William McNeill (Journal of Modern History 73:1, 2001, pp. 133-147); McNeill himself was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama on February 25, 2010.

Braudel belongs to the first generation of post war “savants” who tried to reconfigure the Mediterranean world after the destruction and the division that WWII brought to the shores of the “Middle Sea.” This new “mediterraneité” would be inclusive and post-colonial –at least in the erudite world of scholarship.  Although Braudel’s approach has been criticized for overlooking certain fundamental conflicts (e.g., the clash of Islam and Christianity and the clash between Catholics and Protestants), it has cast a long shadow over subsequent study of the Mediterranean.  More than three decades would separate Braudel’s last revision in 1966 (and translation into English in 1972) from the next major tome written about the Mediterranean by an ancient historian (Nicholas Purcell) and a medievalist (Peregrine Horden).  Published in 2000, their study (The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History) is Braudelian both in size and depth and covers the period from about 800 B.C. through medieval times.  While receiving both praise and criticism, Purcell and Horden’s book has rightly become a classic. Read the rest of this entry »