Art and Films Inspired by the Greek War of Independence

Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826) by Eugene Delacroix. Photo: Public domain

Art and artists are often inspired by the world around them. When dramatic events are taking place, even far from home, it can be difficult to ignore them and not be moved to some action, especially when the cause is freedom. The Greek War of Independence inspired many artists, and not only Greek artists who created the many monuments throughout Greece, but among philhellenes of all nations.

Among the most famous was French painter and leader of the Romantic school Eugene Delacroix whose Massacre at Chios brought the terrible slaughter vividly to life for viewers many of whom were immediately moved by the plight and the suffering of the Greeks to offer some kind of help for the survivors. Delacroix followed up the iconic painting in support of the Greeks and their fight for freedom with Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826) which was inspired by the capture of the city by the Turkish forces in 1825. For the heroic effort of the people and the subsequent massacre of the population, Missolonghi was given the honorary title of Hiera Polis (Sacred City). Delacroix sympathized with the heroic spirit of the Greeks and was also a great admirer of Lord Byron who had died at Missolonghi in 1824.

The Greek War of Independence also inspired the Propylaea (German: Propyläen), a city gate located in Munich on the west side of Königsplatz, constructed in Doric order, and completed by Leo von Klenze in 1862.Evoking the monumental entrance of the Propylaea for the Acropolis in Athens,the gate was created as a memorial for the accession to the throne of Otto of Greece, a son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. As early as 1816, planning began for the Propylaea though 30 years passed before the order for construction was issued.

Laskarina Bouboulina’s Statue, Spetses, Greece. Photo: Eurokinissi
In order to promote the project, Klenze painted a picture of the planned structure. King Ludwig I resigned in 1848, jeopardizing the entire project since by that time the city gate was not needed in Munich. As a gesture of friendship between Greece and Bavaria and as a monument to the Greek War of Independence, Ludwig I eventually financed the project himself from his private funds. Sculptor Ludwig Michael Schwanthaler created the reliefs and statues that decorate the structure and celebrate the Bavarian prince and Greek Independence. The Propylaea opened shortly before King Otto was forced to resign as king of Greece. While visiting the Peloponnese in 1862, a coup took place in Greece, a provisional government was then set up, and a national convention announced. The king and queen were advised by the Great Powers at the time not to resist the coup, leaving Greece on a British warship, and returning to Bavaria. The Propylaea, however, remains a tourist attraction in Munich and a potent reminder the inspiration drawn from Greece, ancient Greek architecture, and the Greek War of Independence.

In film, Bouboulina,  the 1959 Greek drama written and directed by Kostas Andritsos starred Irene Papas as the famous heroine of the Greek War of Independence Laskarina Bouboulina.The film also starred Koula Agagiotou, Andreas Barkoulis, and Dionysis Papagiannopoulos.

Another heroine of the Greek War of Independence, Manto Mavrogenous also inspired a film adaptation of her life story. Directed by Kostas Karagiannis the 1971 film Manto Mavrogenous starred Jenny Karezi in the title role. Petros Fyssoun played the role of Demetrios Ypsilantis, another important historical figure in the Greek Revolution.

The 1965 film I Exodos tou Mesolongiou (The Exit from Missolonghi), directed by Dimitris Doukas, starred many top actors of the time, including Manos Katrakis, Tzavalas Karousos, and Anna Iasonidou.

The 1971 film I megali stigmi tou ’21: Papaflessas (The Great Moment of ’21: Papaflessas), was directed by Erricos Andreou and starred Dimitris Papamichael and Alekos Alexandrakis. It depicts the life of one of the most famous heroes of 1821, Papaflessas.

The monument to Manto Mavrogenous on Mykonos. Photo by Joanbanjo, via Wikimedia Commons)