February 6, 2013
The sky was such a vibrant clear blue today. It reflected off the shop windows and into our eyes, and it warmed our backs on the way to the Benaki Museum to meet Ioanna, our Professor. We remarked on the cloud-less sky and how it livened us up, and the world around us. At the museum, Ioanna mentioned that this grand building had once been a home, but with such rich architecture and vast expanses of marble, that was quite hard to believe. As we meandered through the building, Ioanna explained that the museum’s artifacts were arranged in chronological order, oldest to newest. In each room there were many objects to look at, such as ancient vases and pots, exquisite jewelry, lavish clothing, and many paintings.
In the first few rooms the displays were filled with Pre-history items, mostly there were terra-cotta vases with barely visible designs and stone pendants worn smooth by years of lying untouched.
As we moved into the rooms of the Classical Period, the art styles became more prominent. The pottery had two distinct styles, black figures and red figures. Black figures were scenes with red backgrounds and black subjects (people); red figures came later and were a much more advanced style, with black backgrounds and red people. All the art, and especially the pottery had so many tiny and delicate details. The artists must have been extremely skilled – able to render their work with immense precision and talent.
The next rooms were filled with remnants and art from the Byzantine Period, when Greece was Christian-ized. The most beautiful art were the icons, religious pictures of saints. Filled with gold and lavish colors, they drew the eye and evoked such beauty. As we continued to walk we passed rooms filled with gorgeous clothes, the traditional garments of centuries of Greeks. These clothes were influenced by whoever was occupying Greece at that time, the Venetians and the Turks were the most influential, but also the Franks and a few others. These clothes were so extravagant; some were even sewn with threads of gold.
The last few rooms were dedicated to the War of Independence. There were various paintings and portraits of important people during Greece’s fight for independence. There was this one beautiful painting of a young girl, it seemed benign enough, but upon closer inspection we saw that she actually had her feet resting on a set of Muslim prayer beads. Ioanna explained that this painting is really quite political; she said it shows how Greece overcame the Ottoman Empire and won their War of Independence. After that we reached the end of our lesson and the end of the museum.
The most fulfilling part of the day was to be back in museums and learning about other country’s histories. But the best part of the day, at least short-term, was going back outside into the dazzlingly bright day.